Chapter Twenty One

Janah, “We drive to Houston today. When we’re done with breakfast, pack up, it’s only two hundred miles, we’re staying on the west side near Dmitri’s home.”
Amaya, “Yay, I get to drive.”
“Yes, and the Escalade we used is in the process of being replaced with a different one, it’ll be out front by the time we leave.”
An hour later we’re in the car, then an under three hour drive east on I-10 to our hotel in Houston. Nice place, two bedroom penthouse suite at Hotel Sorella at the intersection of I-10 and Sam Houston Parkway.
Chloe, “Nice rooms, balcony views of Houston, hardwood floors, full kitchen, big bathrooms. All the nice places we go, our condo is still the best..”
Amaya, “How you wound up with the biggest bedroom remains a mystery to me. I may have to have a word with management.”
Chloe, “Like yours is tiny, besides, you have a desk in there that takes up space, I live minimalist, so it looks roomier.”
Amaya, “And you take less space, toothpick.”
Chloe, “You like me skinny.”
Zi, “She’s got you there, you told me she’s your luscious beanpole.”
“I have to keep it simple for Chloe. My thoughts are on a higher plane, she may become confused, disoriented, if I share my lofty imaginings.”
Chloe, “I’ll take a pill.”
Nikko, “Lofty? Like makeup and accessories?”
“Do you realize what she would look like if I did not insert myself? Think of a scrawny leafless tree in the dead of winter. I spend hours designing her look in order to make her worth looking at. Chloe is a fashion model with zero fashion sense, an anomaly. I caught her in a polka dot blouse with a check skirt, I thought I was hallucinating, I nearly fainted.”
“I was getting ready to take off the skirt because I’d changed the blouse, I was merely in transition.”
“To a striped skirt! If your fans had seen you in that, they would have deserted your fan page. Face it Chloe, if it not for me, you would look like a homeless street urchin…with a pointy nose.”
Chloe giggles, “I can’t get worked up about clothes.”
“Vindication. The rest of you have me to thank that you do not have to gaze upon a fashion train wreck, you are welcome.”
Janah, “I had a chance to log on to the Society site on the drive over, they have Dmitri under surveillance. It’s a big house on an acre of land, gated, but the fence is rail, no big deal. The house has six bedrooms, it appears there are two other guys living there, women are on site, it’s unclear if they live there, still checking who comes and goes.”
“So we wait?”
Janah, “For day or two. He just came to our attention, we don’t know if he travels or anything about his schedule. Surveillance is looking for a place to see the house without having to park on the street. So far they’ve just done drive-bys. It doesn’t make sense to go back to Manhattan then come here in two or three days, and we know he’s in Houston now. We can deal with him and go home.”
“I see there’s a fitness place in the CityCenter next door, they have yoga, kickboxing, we could rent a squash court and do forms, a rock climbing wall, I’m going to check it out, I need to move around some.”
Janah, “Great, what time is yoga?”
“There’s a six thirty, ashtanga vinyasa.”
Chloe, “What’s that?”
Janah, “Yoga, it’s pretty traditional, we do it now, I just don’t have a fancy name for it.”
Amaya, “Let’s go, it’s only two now, we can buy yoga stuff around here someplace.”
“There’s a Lululemon in the mall.”
“Hot dog, shopping, get a move on ladies.”
Nothing else to do, we walk the mall, find the store and drop thirteen hundred on workout clothes, snug hip hugging yoga pants, snappy tops, lots of colors although Nikko, Zi and I opt for black. We stop for coffee and tea, a light snack of crepes with mixed berries and mascarpone, quite tasty. We take our purchases back to the hotel, manage to kill three hours.
Janah, “I rechecked the web site, our pal spent the day at his pool, lots of calls, a car came and the women left, then another car came and dropped off two young girls.”
Nikko, “Don’t suppose they’re his daughters.”
“No, Surveillance said they appeared sleepy and confused, also appear to be twins.”
“How old?”
“Older than seven, not over ten. They got a couple of photos, there were small suitcases. One of the men, not Dmitri, spoke to them in Russian, don’t know if they also speak English.”
“We should relieve him of them.”
“Nikko, I think the same thing you do, I doubt his nieces are visiting from Russia, no adult they arrived with stayed, just the girls. But we don’t know how to approach this guy yet, and, if they are what we think they are, new product, he’s likely to let them acclimated first, not just start in on them the day they arrive.”
Nikko, “And if he does?”
Janah, “If we hadn’t got the name from Rose, or hadn’t been able to locate him, then it would have happened anyway. We can’t just go leaping into action. We could make it worse for them, maybe for us, by going in blind.”
“If we find out we’re too late, he’s not living out the week. I should have killed Fernando and Jake.”
“They’re going to have a miserable life, neutered, for all we know they didn’t survive the castration. The Society hasn’t reported one way or the other.”
“I’ll work out my frustrations in the gym.”
“Good. Just don’t bang on each other, no injuries, we have at least three men to deal with soon.”
Nikko nods.

Chapter Twenty Two

Janah, Amaya and Chloe are in yoga class, Nikko, Zi and I are using a squash court for forms, start with tai chi style, slow mo, then pick up the pace. Between taekwondo and gung fu, we go through two dozen routines, that chews up the hour. We’d attracted an audience, I guess they don’t get many martial artists on the squash court.
There’s a knot of guys in the hallway, pretty hunky group, too.
One of them says, “Ladies, I’ve seen a fair number of athletic women, you guys are in some other class entirely. I’ve never seen kicks that high, or that fast. I sure as heck haven’t seen a three sixty horizontal spin. How’d you learn that?”
I smile, “By landing on my face until I got tired of landing on my face.”
“Didn’t hurt that face any.”
“Why, thank you, how sweet.”
Zi is talking to a couple of guys, Nikko is listening to one, she isn’t saying anything.
“My name’s Chip,” he sticks out his hand, I shake it, “I’m Francesca, nice to meet you.”
We do the ‘you from around here’ dance, I explain we’re visiting from San Diego, that’s what our current licenses say anyway, turn the conversation back to him, he’s a stockbroker, we babble about investments for a bit.
Chip, “Who handles your account?”
Like a good broker, he’s testing the temp, maybe he snags a new account, I point to Nikko, who is Suki for now.
Chip, “Guess I won’t be taking your account from her.”
“Nothing personal Chip, she’s pretty much a whiz.”
Chip, “What’s your portfolio look like, just curious, stocks, bonds?”
“Good question, I don’t have a clue, Suki does the investing, we have a brokerage account and some real estate.”
Chip, “Diversified, that’s good. My average account is two million, I have a million dollar minimum.”
“Wow, great, so how much money do you manage if I may ask?”
Chip, “Around a hundred million.”
“Cool. Last time she mentioned it, she was handling six hundred million, I forget.”
Chip nearly bites his tongue off, “Oh, so she’s a broker, who’s she with?”
“She’s with herself, she only manages our money.”
Chip, “Holy sh…uh, moley. You’re what, twenty two, three? That’s amazing. Congratulations, and what line of work are you in, or was it inheritance? Wait, I apologize, I’m in the business, we ask people these kinds of things all the time. Forget I asked.”
“It’s okay, we don’t work, we inherited some, stole the rest.”
Chip laughs, “You have a great sense of humor, in town for a while? Can I take you to dinner?”
I smile, “How nice, unfortunately, we have commitments and aren’t here long.”
Chip, “Too bad for me, look, instead, will you marry me?”
I laugh, “Great offer, but my girlfriend would object.”
Chip thinks for a bit, gets it, “Who’s the lucky girl?”
“My investment manager.”
He looks at Nikko, who is still listening patiently to some guy tell his life story, “Cripes, she’s gorgeous.”
“I agree.”
“The other girl…”
“That’s Suki’s  girlfriend.”
Chip stares at me, I help him out, “We’re not too complicated, we think sharing is caring.”
“I’m going to have a much more interesting fantasy life.”
“Your sense of humor isn’t so bad either. You seem like a great catch for a girl. I doubt you need much of a fantasy life.”
“I don’t recall ever being so politely turned down.”
“And I don’t recall ever being so politely approached, it’s been nice chatting with you, but we have to press on.”
Just then, Chloe, Amaya and Janah appear, I introduce them in their travel names.
Chip turns to me, “Please don’t tell me….”
I smile, “Okay, I won’t.”
He takes another look at the new arrivals, sighs, “You’re killing me, you know that? I would like one girlfriend who is only in the neighborhood you and your friends, you have skimmed the crème de la crème right off the market.”
“Come one, Chip, they’re out there, it’s Texas, I’ve seen a bunch of babes walk by while we’ve been standing here, some of whom have taken a second look at you.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“See the blonde? The one in between the chunky brunette and the tall redhead?”
“Yeah.”
“I guarantee, you walk up and introduce yourself, tell her you just had to meet her, and ask anything, live in town, work around here, don’t talk about you too much, you’ll be getting very lucky, very soon.”
“I don’t know, she’s with friends, it’s…”
“A girl likes it when a guy has the self confidence to make a polite approach, she knows he’s taking a risk, she likes that too. Besides, if you don’t do it, I will.”
“Oh no you don’t. You can’t have all the beautiful girls.”
“I can try, better get moving.”
“I’m going for it, if she blows me off…”
“Trust me, Chip, trust yourself.”
I watch him walk over, he looks back at me, I wave my hand in a ‘go on’ motion, he turns and approaches her, her back is to him, but she’d glanced over three times while we were batting the breeze. He says something, she grins, laughs, I see her head bobbing a yes, must have gotten to the live in town part, she’s got big Texas girl blues and a curvy, toned figure. As we leave, I’m only a vague memory.
Janah, “Nice of you to set up Chip.”
“He was gentlemanly in a boyish way, not dopey. Besides, I’d have had to be blind not to see the cute blond checking him out.”
“Girls are more interested when they see a guy talking to hot girls, automatically assume they must have something going for them.”
“In his case, she’s right, I predict a honeymoon in Hawaii, they don’t seem like the Paris type. She gets a stockbroker who’s making four hundred a year and growing his business. She gets to dress up and go to rich people’s parties and society gigs. For all I know, she’s got a great job of her own, or daddy is loaded. She isn’t poor, not in that club, in the yoga outfit she wore.”
Janah, “They were in our class, she’s pretty good, intermediate like the redhead, the chunk is a beginner, but she worked it. I hope she sticks, she can drop some pounds maybe.”
“How was the class anyway?”
Chloe, “The instructor glorified Janah, she was pretty much hated by the rest of the class. I think it was the back bend with her head poking out between her ankles that did it.”
“I can see that, she does it almost every day though, must have been a pretty easy class. For you guys anyway.”
Amaya, “The instructor was good, he has clearly been at it for a while, Chloe’s stick body pretzeled up nicely, our sessions at home are more strenuous. He asked me where I practiced, I said at home in San Diego. He looked dubious until I said Jacquelyn, Janah, is my instructor.”
“What did he say?”
“Not much, only that she is miles above him and the best he has ever seen.”
“And what did you say?”
“That he should see her one hand handstand. He looked dubious, I sniffed and told him that I am not in the habit of lying. He appeared to whither.”
Janah, “He was quite complimentary, he runs an efficient class, doesn’t cater to the dilettantes, helps the new ones or ones struggling. I see why they hired him, the class was crowded and he’s why.”
Amaya, “Are we room servicing? I need fuel.”
Janah, “Me, too.”
“It’s too late to shower, get dressed and go out. We have a palatial suite. Everyone  scrub, I’ll study the room service menu and order.”
Which I do, I go with standards, fish, steak, a couple of salads, a vegetarian entrée with either rice or pasta, Janah doesn’t care how they do it unless they turn the vegetables into overcooked mush. I’m always careful to warn room service. So far, we’ve gotten it right, and this hotel is no different. The steaks are medium rare, the fish isn’t slathered in sauce, the salads are fresh and crispy cold, nice job Hotel Sorella.
This morning we don’t know a heck of a lot more, Surveillance did manage to monitor the two girls, they were fed and watched TV, in bed before eight. It was evident they’d traveled a long way, a very long way.
Nikko, “We got lucky for a day.”
Janah, “The Society traced Surveillance photos to two girls who arrived at Kennedy yesterday morning, from Belarus through Moscow. It takes over thirty hours, nearer forty. Then they had to get to Houston after arriving in New York after midnight. They were escorted by a women, who did not travel with them to Houston. Once they cleared customs, the woman disappeared. A different woman traveled with them to Houston, we already know she’s gone too.”
Nikko, “They have documents obviously.”
“Visas, here to visit family allegedly in New Jersey, they have return tickets in a month. Those won’t be used, it’s just more convincing if the tickets aren’t one way, makes immigration suspicious. They sure aren’t in New Jersey.”
“How long do we diddle with Surveillance?”
“Today. Tonight, we take a ride to Dmitri’s house, we aren’t going in unless the girls are being abused, we need a firsthand look and we need Zi and Chloe to take the temperature of the occupants of the house. Once we know more about what we’re dealing with, we deal with it. If the girls are being mistreated, we improvise.”
Zi, “How close is Surveillance to the house?”
Janah, “Yesterday it was a utility crew poking around the neighborhood, today there’s an arborist checking the health of the trees. They have to move around the block, it’s a wealthy neighborhood, the trees are already well maintained so they can’t stay in the same spot all day. It looks legit enough, guys in jumpsuits boring small holes in the tree, samples to be analyzed for rot or infestation. The truck is loaded with military grade listening gear, we have satellite imaging of the grounds, if someone is by the pool, or in the yard. we get close ups. They’re also snagging cell phone conversation and his internet hookup. There has been one call of interest, to New York around the time the girls arrived. Confirmation of delivery.”
Amaya, “People don’t call family and confirm delivery, they say Sasha and Natasha arrived safely.”
Janah, “The also don’t refer to relatives as packages, or as high quality product.”
Nikko, “What else do we need to know, Janah?”
“I want to move on it too Nikko. If things check out today, and we learn more about occupants tonight, we will take care of it tonight as well.”
Nikko isn’t quite satisfied, but relents.
I change the subject, “Let’s send Amaya and Chloe to the spa, they can get facialed or something, you like that stuff Janah, go with them. Nishiko, Zi and I will start figuring out how to get in, I’ll monitor Surveillance and we can adjust as more data comes in. Go have breakfast first, I’ll make appointments and mental you times. The breakfast menu here is good, or that place we stopped in yesterday for crepes. We’ll have something sent up for us.”
Janah, “Good, Chloe, Amaya, gear up, you can decide where we eat.”
They take off for one restaurant or another, I order scrambled eggs, fruit, oatmeal, toast and a couple of orders of crisp bacon, there’s a coffee pot in our suite, sodas, bottled tea and water in a refrigerator.
Nikko and Zi study the photos, the grounds around the house and the neighborhood. We breakfast, I get spa appointments for the early afternoon, they’ll be done by four.
They return to digest and chill, there’s phone activity at the house.
We intercept Dmitri himself, call from the same number in New York, Dmitri speaks in Russian, Janah translates, “Yes, extraordinary quality, most delectable. I am going to help train the little bitches myself.”
Voice, “Train carefully, remember what happened before. After you take the photos, begin training.”
Dmitri, “I know what I’m doing Anatoly, they will be docile and well behaved.”
The line disconnects.
I feel Nikko’s blood simmering, Dmitri has signed his own death warrant.
Janah, “That does it. Tonight we go in, come up with an approach girls.”
While Janah and the girls are being pampered, we huddle over surveillance and satellite shots, I double check the neighborhood on Google Earth, everything checks out. Something pops up on the Society site, goody, plans for the house.
“Good work by the Society, don’t have to go in blind.”
Nikko, “Must be a security system, what’s the plan?”
“The Society will reroute the signal, courtesy of Spider and Eloise. The alarm will go to a dead end, not the security company. It will still go off inside the house, like a siren, I have the wiring diagram, I have to get to the control pad and snip the right wire.”
Zi, “I am always amazed at what the Society can handle, quickly and accurately. Vehicles and equipment appear wherever we need them, they can shut down power to a house or a neighborhood in an hour or less. They got us a utility company bucket truck once, suites at popular hotels on a day’s notice.”
“It helps when the call comes from Homeland Security or the FBI. Things zip right along.”
Zi, “I never knew how it worked.”
“They don’t do it often, we do more high profile work, the other teams have more advance planning and less complicated jobs.”

Chapter Twenty Three X

While one set of girls is at the spa, we’re watching a satellite feed of two young girls naked in Dmitri’s pool. He and two Big Uglies are at a table by the pool watching and exchanging lurid comments, in English, I doubt the girls speak enough English to catch the meaning of the conversation.
Dmitri, “Two identical beauties licking my cock, I’ll teach them to go down on each other, do you have any idea what a customer would pay to see eight year old twins doing that, then a dual blow job and two fucks?”
Big Ugly One, “When do I arrange for transport?”
“They haven’t been sold yet. You’ll know when I know. I sent test photos to Anatoly, he said to wait another day, but I don’t see the point. Quite beautiful these two, what a dream, better than those two Olsen girls when they were young. Men fantasized about having them together.”
Big Ugly Two, “Are we getting a chance, before they get shipped out?”
“Hope you have a two day drive to the buyer. As long as they arrive in pristine condition, you can have your fun along the way. If you get stupid and the buyer complains, remember what happened to Zabig.”
Big Ugly One, “Zabig was a mongrel I killed myself. We had to sell the girl to a pimp she was so torn up.”
“And I had to eat the price difference, if Anatoly hadn’t hired Zabig himself, I wouldn’t have gotten off that easy. Have a bit of fun, go fucking easy and blow jobs only, they’re going to be sore after I finish with them. Deliver the product fresh, clean and unblemished, or suffer the consequences.”
Big Ugly One, “She’ll practically be a virgin.”
Dmitri laughs, “We don’t deliver virgins. Buyers like it better when the girl already knows what’s up. Everyone says they want a virgin, but taking a young one, all the tears, screams, they don’t like the fact as much as the fantasy. I like the tears, they always let me soothe them at the end, I become their friend, give them nice jewelry, pretty dresses. They soon forget the pain.”
Nikko has gone beyond simmer, “I’m thinking of how long I can keep him alive.”
“You can have him, but not for that long. I’ll deal with one of the Big Uglies, Zi the other.”
Nikko sneers, “I could take a week or more.”
“You don’t have a week, or an hour. We need to get it done and go.”
“Just a pleasant fantasy, a cut, let it bleed and coagulate, then another, I wonder if I could create a scab sculpture before he dies?”
“Eeeewwww, that’s nasty. Such a cultured Japanese girl too.”
Janah, Chloe and Amaya return, they’re in that kind of spa haze, steam, facial, reflexology, body scrub, they’re actually shiny.
“Geez, I could put on makeup in your reflection.”
Chloe, “It was great. Except the reflexology girl recognized me.”
“Hmmm, how’d you handle it?’
“I said I’m visiting a friend at the hotel and we expect privacy, that I would be sure to tell the hotel manager how discreet is staff is.”
Amaya, “ I gave the girl a two hundred dollar tip and told her if a single photographer showed up, I would send my people around to beat her to death.”
“You didn’t!”
“Sure did, gave her my Nishiko Death Eye when I said it.”
Chloe, “I thought the poor girl would wet herself, her aura was bright red, she believed every word.”
“When I decide to convince someone, they are convinced, freckles, that is what I do, make people believe. I may start a hedge fund.”
I ask Janah, “Do we need to change hotels?”
“There’s no Chloe Sylk staying here, the suites are in one of the Society’s corporate shells, they have no idea who else is here. Your signature on a room service tab is meaningless and we’re not staying past tomorrow night. When we go out tonight, we’re disguised, Chloe could walk past a hundred paparazzi and they wouldn’t give her a second glance. Out of disguise, Chloe is going to get recognized, can’t be helped. All the more reason to make sure our disguises are good.”
Amaya, “When we leave tonight, you will not recognize her; kindly recall, I am a makeup and clothing savant. Beanpole will actually have breasts, I have a selection of color contacts and she will be so unfashionable as to be exactly like she would be if she did not have me to keep her from herself.”
Chloe giggles, “I get to be myself for once.”
“Only for one evening, then you return to who you ought to be.”
Chloe kisses her, “Yours to command.”
“Duh.”
Chloe giggles again, “I need to wash off this slime.”
“In the shower, I will return you to perfect.”
“I knew there was an upside to this.”
They go off, I recap events for Janah.
“Have you figured a way in?”
Nikko, “Yes, and I would prefer you and the girls stay here, we just need Zi to check where the bodies are, it will be late, when everyone is in bed.”
“Nope. Chloe is as sensitive as Zi, it’s a big house, they need to cover it quickly, and Amaya is the driver of choice, if we have to make a hard fast escape, we want her at the wheel. I’m emergency backup and there are the girls to consider. I’ll need to settle them down and I speak passable Russian, I don’t want to have to do mental translation from the hotel. You’ve dealt with security systems, Daphne?”
“Arranged, all we need to do is make sure the kids are extracted and clear.”
We check updates on the website, it appears the girls are in bed, Dmitri’s two butt boys are not downstairs, there’s no movement, little lighting, one bedroom light is on, the others are dark.
By the time we arrive, around midnight, the front door is lit by gas lamps at the doorways, pool lights are off. It’s decently dark in back, gas lamps light the double doors that open to the rear of the house. If two Shaolin priests and a ninja can’t access this place we need to go to remedial stealth class.
Zi and Chloe walk the perimeter in the shadows, everyone in black, with black watch caps. They return to the car.
Zi, “Five people, two small ones in the upper left rear bedroom, the next bedroom, center rear is occupied, across the hall front left is occupied. The downstairs master bedroom is also occupied, Dmitri no doubt.”
Chloe, “I got the same vibe.”
“The plans say the house has six bedrooms, a staircase on the right in the entrance hall. Amaya and Chloe stay with the car, I don’t see why we need to use separate entrances, I’ll break in the rear door, Nikko watches Dmitri’s room, I shut down the alarm, we go upstairs and get the girls, make sure they get to the car. Once they’re out, how do you want to deal with the men?”
Nikko, “We each take one, all at the same time.”
Janah, “I don’t want to scare the girls, guess it’s inevitable. Keep them quiet, just a hand over the mouth, I’ll calm them down quickly enough. We can take any clothes they have after we’re done with the men. Don’t spend time looking around the room until later.”
Amaya, “Double check the alarm system, are we sure it’s rerouted?”
Janah, “Turns out there is no alarm that goes to a company or the cops, just a sign. It makes sense, Dmitri doesn’t want surprise visitors. The alarm is for the house only, to let him know if someone is trying to get out. If Daphne can’t get the inside alarm off in time, the men will come out of their bedrooms, you won’t need to go in.”
“Then let’s get moving.”
I have the lock open in seconds, the alarm doesn’t trip until the door actually opens and breaks the circuit. I fly to the control panel, there’s one right by the back door. I have a small screwdriver, penlight in my mouth and start in, four screws. I’m counting seconds in my head, it’s usually a fifteen second delay, but the owner can reset it shorter or longer. Two out in eight seconds, crap, third and forth out, one second left, snip, nothing, deep breath.
I mental Nikko, down a hallway at the master bedroom door, Janah upstairs with Zi, “Done, coming up, Nikko, hold until the girls are clear.”
When I get upstairs, Janah mentals again, “Door’s locked on the outside, get busy.”
She holds the penlight while I stick the torque tool in the lower part of the lock, the pick in the top, keep the tension on the torque, and rake the pick back along the pins, first pass misses, second pass, click.
“Amaya, tell Chloe to come to the back of the house and help Janah with the girls.”
“On her way, hang on, okay she is over the fence, crossing the yard, the side of the house, rounding the corner to the back. I am following you, when Chloe and Janah get to the front of the house, I will ram the gate with the rear end of the Escalade, we do not need to get the girls over the fence.”
“It’ll be noisy, there are neighbors.”

“If I back right up to it, I can force it with a little gas. Won’t even dent the bumper.”
Girl’s pretty slick.
Amaya, “Duh.”
All this happens in seconds, Janah and Zi are in with the two girls. Over her shoulder, I see both girls backed against a wall holding butcher knives. Janah whispers in Russian, an English reply from one of them, heavily accented, but comprehensible. They throw the knives on the bed.
Janah wipes the blades to remove prints, she rolls them in a hand towel from the bathroom, takes the girls downstairs.
When they reach the back door, I mental Nikko, “Go.”
The men’s doors are unlocked, Zi’s is asleep, she’s on him, Big Ugly One’s throat is open, blood gushing out, he barely moves, then dead.
Meanwhile, I hear a toilet flush, Big Ugly Two would have to need to pee, I go in.
He’s just coming out of the bathroom, a curse in Russian, I have three shuriken in his chest and face before he takes another step, he stares at me for a second, falls backwards into the bathroom. I dispense with him, grab the shuriken and leave him bleeding on the floor. Zi is at the doorway, we go to the girls’ room, collect clothes, brushes, toiletries in their little suitcases, strip the bed, stuff the linens in a plastic bag, wipe the bathroom counter, take the damp towels. No time to vacuum, but we try to remove as much evidence as possible. The room looks vacant, not occupied, no one who will admit it knows the girls were here, no reason to do deep forensics in the room. If they do find a stray blond hair on the floor, there’s no way to connect it to anyone.
Nikko is standing at the back door, “Before you ask, I did it clean, he never woke up. They will find the asshole with his cock in his mouth.”
I grimace, “I’d check to see if there’s a safe, must be, but Janah wants to get the girls gone.”
We make our way around the house, gate is open, the Escalade is at the curb, we climb in, Janah’s in the last row with Chloe, each holding an eight year old bookend.

Chapter Twenty Four

Amaya has us at the hotel in fifteen, Janah and Chloe have the twins mentally relaxed, in fact, they’re asleep. I carry one in my arms, Janah the other, the place is near empty and our suite has a private elevator, we take them to Janah’s room and put them in bed.
Janah, “I’ll sleep in here, if they wake, I’ll know.”
“I’m sitting with you, we can meditate and keep the atmosphere calm.”
While Janah and I take throw pillows from the couch and sit cross legged on the bedroom floor, the others have a glass of wine and go to bed.
Morning, we order room service breakfast, I catch it at the door, bring in the cart myself, hang the Do Not Disturb tag.
The girls are up and in the shower, brushed and dressed, they come into the living area, stare around at the luxurious room, go to the windows to see the view, surprisingly more interested in the sights than their situation.
I have the food laid out, granola, berry yogurt, scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, Brabant potatoes, toast, waffles, smoked salmon with bagels and cream cheese.
The girls look wide eyed at the spread, Janah asks in Russian, “Hungry? Tell Daphne what you want and she’ll get you fixed up.”
One asks the other something in Russian, she begins to point, I put eggs and smoked salmon on the plate, a waffle, scrambled eggs, she’s done, I put it at a place on the table, her sister sits.
How sweet, taking care of her twin.
“And you?”
“Same.”
Guess I could have figured that out myself.
The rest of us fix plates, sit to eat, the girls are quiet, clearly hungry and clearly enjoying the food.
Janah asks in Russian if they want milk or tea, the girls take black tea, add sugar, plates are soon nothing but plate.
The talking sister says, “Deed you buy us? I hope zo if you alvays liffink lik zis.”
Janah replies in Russian, “We did not buy you, you will not be sold to anyone. Does your sister speak English as well as you?”
“My English no so gud, hers better, only seester no talk much.”
Janah, still in Russian, translating it mentally so Nikko and I can follow, I pass it along to Amaya, Chloe and Zi, “What is your name, your sister’s name?”
Talking Girl, “I am Dasha, sister is Daria, something else on visa, we say nothing.”
Janah, “So, Dasha, how did you wind up in America? Where are your parents”
“Father dead in war, mother move away with man, leave us with old man and woman, poor.”
“How long were you with them?”
Dasha thinks about it, “One summer, winter, summer. One day, man give them money, we go with him. Live in back room of house a month maybe, a woman comes. She take us to airport, tell us we lucky, live in American with rich people, show picture of  big house, man, woman, dog, cat. She says they are for taking care of us.”
Janah, “And what did you think when you finally got to the house?”
“Not house in picture, no dog, no cat, no wife, man not same, Russian.”
“What did you think?”
“Tired, go to bed.”
“What happened the next day?”
“He make us take off clothes, swim in pool. Men look at us, touch, talk about money they get.”
“Was it scary?”
“Russian pigs, to be expected. I know girls in my country bought and sold like cows. Same if we stay. I hope by going, story may be true.”
Daria, “Never true, all lies.”
Dasha, “You don’t buy for selling us, why take us?”
“So you would never be bought or sold again. Children are not property.”
Dasha sips tea, Daria is studying Janah, trying to decipher if she is just telling more lies. Children have better truth radar than adults, they see what’s there with less conditioning.
I ask Chloe for a read, “Suspicion, distrust, is yellow, Dasha is a pale yellow, Daria has been deep yellow all morning, that is fading...a little.”
Janah, “What do you want to happen now?”
Dasha, “We never think of what happen, never decide anything.”
“Talk it over with Daria, ask me anything you want. For now, watch TV, listen to music, if you wish, we can go for a drive later.”
Dasha looks at her sister, “Amerikanskoye televideniye.”
They park on the couch, I click on the TV, Janah explains the remote. They channel surf, stumble on MTV, which occupies them. They watch and whisper to each other, we stay out of their hair, then Amaya wants her nails done, so I buff them up, apply fresh polish, the girls are glancing at us, get up and come to the table to watch.
Dasha looks at her own nails, they aren’t bitten down, pretty healthy, too dry, she has cuticles and the nails are uneven.
She says, in English, “I never haf pohlush.”
“We should fix that, give me your hand.”
I clip, file, buff until shiny, shave off excess cuticle, Daria is studying the process intently, Chloe says, “You too Daria, do you want the same color as Dasha, or different? Here, look at these colors, what do you like?”
Amaya is Amaya, she’d toted along four different OPIs. Daria picks Super Bass Shatter, very chic.
We have a roll going, so I ask, “Now for toes, do you want the same color or a different one?”
Dasha goes different, Daria the same, we only have four choices, but one is a deeper pink than the one on her fingers, I suggest that, she nods.
In an hour they’re buffed polished and dry and standing in front of the full length mirror in the bedroom wiggling their toes and fingers.
Amaya picks through their clothes frowning, “This stuff is for the trash bin, we will need to shop.”
Nikko and Zi opt to stay at the hotel, Nikko has good taste, but no shopping gene, her outfits are mostly black silk slacks and a blouse. Zi is only a little better, years in Shaolin monk-wear cause her to stay simple. Janah tags along to translate.
We head to the Galleria and after an afternoon of Juicy Couture, Abercrombie and a place called Hanna Andersson, they have skirts, jeans, tops, leggings, sneakers and a pair of platforms each. They didn’t want identical, but obviously can wear any of the outfits, they are exactly the same size.
In between stores, we have snacks, then ice cream, then back to the hotel. The girls had gone back and forth in Russian, store clerks fascinated by the blond blue eyed angels. Amaya in her element, the girls look precious.
Janah translates as they talk.
Dasha, “So much in America, how does Eemaya know what is looking good?”
Janah, “Amaya picks out clothes for women where we live, she has a great eye for style, what will look good and what won’t. She buys all Chloe’s clothes.”
Amaya, “Chloe is just the opposite, don’t ever buy anything she suggests, it is a guaranteed disaster.”
Dasha, “Why allowing her talk to you in such a way?”
Chloe giggles, “Because she’s right. I like to think of it as me not having to think of it, she likes it, I don’t care,” Janah translates.
We make it back by six thirty, Houston is a traffic nightmare, but Amaya has GPS and navigates well. Dasha chatters in Russian, they look out the windows, the radio plays a pop station.
We do a quick clean up, we had only light snacks, Nikko and Zi skipped lunch, Zi has a certain look that I translate as sexual satisfaction. Except for abusers, Nikko is always calm, she seems even more sedate than usual.


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