Chapter Thirty Three
Janah, “Susan, Taylor, this is Zi Sŭ, she is going to be Taylor’s assistant for a while.”
Zi starts to bow, then remembered she’s not supposed to be a monk, “No bowing, Janah says.”
Amaya, “And Taylor and I get to turn her into a New York girl, yay!”
Zi, “Well, actually, I’m from Connecticut, not too far away. My parents are from China, immigrated long ago. My brothers are fully Americanized, I entered the temple. Must be in the genetics someplace.”
Susan, “You can’t be more than twenty, and a disciple. When did you enter?”
Zi, “Well, I’m actually twenty one. My father’s brother is a monk, in China. He’s a master and head gung fu instructor. I visited when I was six and spent the summer in the monastery near Zhengzhou in central China. During the course of that summer, it was determined that I had, um, an affinity for certain skills. I spent the next ten years there. At sixteen, I heard stories about the temple in New York, that there was a Bodhisattva in residence. Being near home, and the chance to be in a temple with such as Master J was more than enough to draw me to America. I have never regretted my move. Janah and the other masters have been incredibly instructive, our temple is filled with love for our Abbess.”
Susan, “When did you become a disciple?”
Zi looks at Janah, Janah says, “Think of Las Vegas.”
“Duh, what happens in the temple, stays in the temple. Sorry, I temple-orarily lost my mind.”
Dad and Kara appear, introductions made, I prepare tea and coffee, we offer abbreviated biographies, the subject moves to calligraphy, then to Kara’s art.
Zi, “May I see?”
“I just finished a piece I’m letting settle, then packing for our storage facility. I have to go over there anyway, I’m having a show soon and need to decide what to part with.”
They leave together to take a peek, it’s a half hour before Zi and Kara return, Zi says, “The most remarkable painting I’ve ever seen. The colors are unique, and they leap off the page, astoundingly beautiful.”
“Can we quote you for the show?”
Zi laughs, “My authority may come into question Master…um, no, no Shaolin, Daphne. I’ll have to get used to Janah and Daphne instead of Master J and Master Sylk.”
“Janah calls me master all the time.”
Zi, “I see Daphne is Daphne, in or out of the temple.”
Nikko, “Afraid so.”
We want to get her settled, tonight is goofing off, then tomorrow, get her outfitted and made up. She’d let her hair grow, it isn’t as long as mine or Nikko’s, but it’s shoulder length. She’d taken care of it, despite the rigors of training and the lack of a salon in the temple.
I think, “Hey!”
So much for Shaolin Styles. Maybe I’d work on Janah, she might come around.
I’ll wait until I have her orgasmic, sometimes she cries ‘yes, yes, yayus’ at the moment of truth.
Janah giggles, “Nice try.”
We prepare to leave, Zi stays for a shopping tour of Taylor’s closet. Amaya will finish it tomorrow in hers or mine, which has basically become an extension of hers. It’s good to shed possessions.
Amaya, “See, I am helping you walk the path of enlightenment.”
“So it seems.”
“You can call me Babesattva.”
At home, I call Marconi’s for pizza, ravioli, manicotti and Italian salad, anchovies on the side for Janah’s vegetarian benefit. Taylor and Zi arrive with Zi in jeans and a pullover, a hanging bag of clothes and a small suitcase.
“Taylor, you want to stay for dinner?”
“Thanks, Susan is expecting me back, Lacy is coming over.”
“Good, have fun, see you tomorrow.”
Zi, “Thank you again, Taylor, what time do you want me to be ready?”
Taylor, “Nothing on for tomorrow, a photo shoot the day after, I’ll call, we can make up some duties for you. I’ll go over what happens in a photo shoot”
She leaves, Amaya takes Zi to her room and puts the clothes away. Security calls, the food is downstairs.
We eat around the table, Zi says, “Wow, this is great Italian.”
“We’ve known the Marconi’s since forever, it’s a staple around here, at least once a week.”
After dinner, we watch an episode of Justified and while Raylan dispenses with bad guys, we spread comfortably on the mat and couch. Tonight, Amaya sleeps with Zi, I sleep in my old routine Janah in the middle surrounded by me and Nikko.
This morning, Amaya’s little silk robe rings, her phone is in the pocket, “Hi, yes, I’ll relay the message, see you in a bit.”
“Taylor is coming at ten, it’s quarter to nine, time to get in gear.”
Chapter Thirty Four
Janah, “I’m off to the meditation loft, girls don’t need me to surf Amaya’s closet.”
Janah goes up to the loft, security calls, “Ms. Taylor.”
“Send her along please, in the future she needn’t be announced, just let her come up.”
Must be someone new, Taylor’s been in and out of here a lot.
I hear the elevator, open the door, “Good morning, come on in, coffee, tea?”
Taylor, “I’m good. Where’s Janah? Nikko?”
“Nikko’s in the bedroom resting, slight headache this morning. Janah’s in the meditation loft, won’t see her for a while.”
Zi says to Taylor, “Their home is gorgeous. I don’t know how they ever leave. Particularly for the small room in the temple.”
“There are other attractions. We don’t stay overnight much anymore. Amaya came along. Sleeping on a mat is not on her agenda.”
Amaya, “I honor the monks, and I feel it is my duty to provide an example of selfish superficiality. That way, it is not merely a concept, but the actual thing.”
Zi, “I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the superficial side.”
“We can indulge a bit more, then time for makeup class.”
“It’s good to get out of myself.”
And she does. A dozen or more try-ons, and walk arounds, I get to enjoy the show. Amaya makes Zi wear platforms, she isn’t used to anything with a heel, but she’s a talented martial artist, balance is a significant part of training. She gets the hang quickly. There are jeans, skirts, shorts, all in varied fit and texture. Zi is near a duplicate of Nishiko, long lean legs, curvy muscle from years of gung fu, more Amaya’s five seven than Nikko’s five ten.
Next comes makeup. After Amaya and Taylor are done, she’s runway ready.
“Geez, Zi. They’ll be recruiting you for the shoot.”
Zi smiles, she is enjoying her beauty, looking in Amaya’s three sided mirror, says to no one in particular, “The wonder of their skill. I look like someone I’ve never seen before.”
Amaya, “You skin is flawless, we did not need concealer, nothing to conceal. We only had to bring out the assets already in place. It is a matter of shading, and a color that flows with your skin type. Now, let us get you in shorts and a t-shirt, time for nails. Daphne, I will do fingers, you toes,” she looked at me, mischievous smile, “Daphne is good with toes.”
In an hour, nails buffed, painted, we went with Diva of Geneva, a medium purple shade Amaya sometimes uses. Zi endures our ministrations, Taylor uses the down time to tell Zi about photo shoots, the chaos, the endless repeats.
“Walk five steps to the curb holding, say, a handbag that’s the subject of the photo, then again, and again. Tomorrow is a fashion shoot, I’ll be endlessly dressing and undressing, then a thousand shots from all angles. It can get pretty tedious.”
Amaya, “Taylor, she’s a Buddhist monk.”
Taylor giggles, “Maybe I should study Buddhism. Zi, would you introduce me while we wait around? Or is it something you do so much you don’t want to have to talk about it?”
Zi, “You want to learn Ch’an?”
“In China, Zen is called Ch’an. The Chinese taught it to the Japanese, who modified the name. Interestingly, Ch’an was a derivation, from a Pali word, Jhana. Spelled differently from our Abbess, but the word means meditation.”
Amaya, “What an incredible coincidence. And what is Pali?”
“The Indian language of the earliest Buddhist texts still in existence.”
Taylor, “Is Ch’an hard? I’m not the brightest person in any room.”
“Then you are as close as a whisper.”
Janah comes down, we’d whiled away the day with clothing changes, I’d kept snacks out instead of a formal lunch, soda, tea and coffee flowed. Nikko joined us around two, but sat silent on the couch. I’d checked her head, no aches. She is enjoying the interplay, content to be an observer.
I curl next to her on the couch, arm around my samurai, stroking her luxurious black hair, my almost twin.
“You are better now.”
Nikko, “Much, I feel your energy flowing into me. Taylor and Amaya have transformed Zi. She must have missed being able to do girl things.”
“They haven’t much time for makeup and fashion. Janah doesn’t have a rule, but tradition is to stay distant from externals. Janah tells them externals have their place, just not to be absorbed in them. The monks became more, um, hygienic, which was a problem. Early on, she explained that a neat, clean and attractive appearance is better than attracting attention to oneself by neglecting appearance.”
“Seeking attention by being disgusting.”
“Well, yes, a version of it,” Nikko is always direct, and usually accurate.
“And the place cleaned up quickly.”
“Once she spoke on it in a lesson, it was practically overnight. The next day, I got the dining room scrubbed, then repainted, then the kitchen transformed.”
“Janah cleaned up the temple with a simple lecture?”
“She prefers to think of it as pointing out a few things overlooked.”
“Spare me the bullshit. They caught the scent of the Bodhisattva and snapped into line.”
“Well, there’s that.”
Chapter Thirty Five
Taylor is packing up Zi’s cosmetics and clothes. Amaya has tons of cosmetics she’d never opened, the ones that suit Zi go with her.
Hugs around, I walk to the condo with them. First, they have a couple of bags of things, second, I don’t want them approached by whoever, burdened with the bags. Taylor doesn’t know jack about defending herself, Zi is just out of the temple in a new neighborhood.
Taylor goes up while I talk with Zi, “Mostly, keep the sensitive radar on. If anything is dark, call me. I don’t care if it’s a grey shadow in the distance. Some of the Shadows are very good. They can mask most of their mental imbalance. No signal doesn’t mean they aren’t near.”
Zi, “At the first sign, your phone will ring.”
“I’ve GPS’d your phone to my phone and Janah’s, even if you can’t talk, we can find you. Chan will follow for a couple of days. You won’t see him, you may sense he’s around. If things are normal, he’ll drop it. I’ll let you know when he’s not there. We want you to adapt to the new life before placing the entire burden on you.”
“I’m grateful for the opportunity. I have often wished to learn about your family, you and Janah at home….and, um, Nishiko. Do I presume?”
“Not at all. You must feel free to ask us anything…anything at all.”
Zi gives me a slight bow, a small smile on her now slick glossed lips.
Janah, “Oh my,” she’s following the conversation from our apartment.
“Oh my indeed.”
We go upstairs, Susan sees the reconstructed Zi, “Oh my.”
A lot of oh mys floating around in a short sixty seconds.
Susan, “Do tell.”
Zi, “The girls have so much skill. Small wonder they have a class in fashion, it must be popular.”
“Full every session. They can only take ten at a time, it’s a lot of work, clothing and accessory selection, try it all on, adjust. Makeup takes forever. They can put it on the girls easily enough, it’s teaching them to apply it themselves, how to create different looks, innocent to saucy. And they have to be careful with the younger ones, who want to look older.”
Taylor, “Let’s get your things put away,” they go off to the guest bedroom.
“I’m headed home. Taylor has an early call, Sis. Don’t let the children stay up and gossip all night.”
“Reminding me not to stay up and encourage them?”
“It’s a temptation, heck, I’d love to sit around in girl gossip, but for all the fun, there’s a serious job to do.”
Back at the apartment, no Shadows jumped out from behind the trees. It’s pushing five.
Janah, “What’s for dinner?”
Some things never change. They have cocktails, I’ve got one standard meatloaf and one veg, green beans and creamed corn. Crunchy toasted rounds accompany. Eat, movie, bedtime intimacies, then bedtime sleep.
This morning, after breakfast, we spend an hour just being, not recalling the previous night’s reverie, not jabbering, not planning. Amaya brushes Nishiko’s hair, I’m busy laying on Janah’s tummy watching. Then Nikko lays on Amaya’s tummy, whose head is now on my tummy. We are bathed in the intensity of affection, a gentle vibe, no one feels any urgency, no need for any entertainment. For that hour, life is perfect serenity. We could have lain there until we dried up and turned to stardust.
Life, lovely life, has other plans. My phone rings, Zi, there is no message, only a location.
“Where is Chan? He’s supposed to be with Zi.”
Janah, “He’s around, where is she?”
Janah, “Get moving.”
I call Paladin for a car, Nikko and I are in refocusing gear in two minutes. Janah and Amaya are waiting, we skip the elevator, scramble down the stairs and into the waiting SUV.
Amaya tells the driver, “I’ll take it from here.”
The driver balks, Nikko says, “She’ll take it from here, Jennifer.”
Jennifer knows Nikko, she nods, steps out of the car, Amaya hops in the driver’s seat, we strap up, Amaya floors it. She gets to South Street Seaport in ten minutes, a cross town miracle. Zi’s phone fixes her position in a restaurant called Red, a touristy Mexican place for people who don’t mind paying fifteen bucks for chicken chimichangas.
Amaya pulls to the curb, clearly in a no parking area, she waits in the car with Janah. Nikko and I go to find Zi, and hopefully, Taylor. We do.
Zi, “Shadow tracked us within an hour of our arrival. Taylor was taking shots on the pier, we’re supposed to go to a studio afterwards. Taylor did her bit, a different model is being photographed, we were waiting to be brought to the studio. Shadow appeared in the crowd watching the shoot. Chan followed him, I took Taylor to a safe place, there is no sense of him here. We waited for you.”
“Where is the studio?”
“East Side, ten blocks.”
“We’ll watch Taylor. Go and tell the director that Taylor will meet them at the loft, he might bitch, ignore him. Then return to the car, which is right there,” I point to the SUV. We’ll go to the loft, you can check it in advance. It it’s clear, Taylor can finish her day.”
Zi leaves to do her assistant duties. The director gives her some grief about Taylor not being around. Zi smiles, tells him Taylor admires his work so much she felt she needed to be at her best for the studio shots.
Her ego stroke works, he smiles, “Taylor is such a pro, sounds like her.”
Zi climbs into the SUV, “Are all men so easy to manipulate?”
Taylor laughs, “Easier. I don’t know about monks, the next most dispassionate crowd is in the fashion biz, but their egos can be stroked.”
“Monks, not so easy. If they fall prey to that simplistic a manipulation, they won’t be monks in Janah’s temple for long.”
Taylor looks at Janah, “You’re that tough?”
“Our requirements are high, the monks usually take them higher.”
“Zi has been splendid, handing me things, holding others, managing to be there and disappear at the right moments. I should have gotten an assistant a long time ago.”
“They have people looking after you at the shoot, don’t they?”
“Hair and makeup adjustments, fitting the clothes. The assistant is for water, coffee, hang onto personal possessions, check schedules. Purses have been known to disappear, phones, even personal clothes. It’s annoying.”
We pull up to the studio, before we get Taylor out, Zi walks up and down the block, then into the building.
She’s back in five minutes, “Nothing.”
Janah, “Daphne, stay with them until Chan appears. He’s gotten tied up with the target or we would have seen him by now. When he calls or shows, we’ll work out the next step.”
Amaya, “What do you want to do, go back to Seaport?”
“Good question. I don’t want to call Chan, he may be tied up and he doesn’t need distraction. If there is only one, then he didn’t manage to follow us here.”
Nikko, “Doesn’t mean he didn’t find out the location. He could take the mind of one of the crew and get the location of the studio. He’d have to somehow know or find out that a second session is set, and that Taylor is part of it.”
Janah, “Good thing I have you guys here, you’re outthinking me today. The other unknown is did he simply happen to be in the vicinity and Taylor has nothing to do with it. We know they’re around, no reason to conclude they associate Taylor with us.”
She’s quiet for a time, then, “When does the studio session begin?”
Zi, “After lunch, which they will be taking now. Forty five minutes or less.”
“Then there’s nothing to do until we hear from Chan. This car is cramped with six of us.”
“Taylor, Daphne and I can go inside and wait. There’s a set up team in there now, people dealing with the lighting, cameras and clothes.”
Taylor, “I’ll know most of them. We can hang out, fuss with my face, model junk, they won’t pay any attention.”
Janah, “Good. We’ll wait in the car. Chan will be able to find out where we are by tapping a crew member, or he’ll just call.”
We take the elevator up to the third floor studio. Amaya stays with the car, Nikko and Janah climb back in, sit with the engine idling. In forty minutes, Chan appears, taps the window. He’d followed the crew over to the studio in a taxi.
He slides into the back seat with Janah, “Difficulty is settled.”
Janah, “As in?”
“He was unaware of Taylor, except as one of the models. He happened to be hanging around, watching the photo shoot. Zi sensed him, he didn’t appear to sense her, occupied with watching the scene I suppose. Lots of people watching.”
“That’s a relief. Just a fluke on the first day with Zi.”
“Seems so. There was a hint of a second though. I dealt with the Shadow, the scent of the second no longer in the air. I stayed to see if there was a trail, nothing, I came here following the crew.”
Amaya, “What happened to the one you…what did you say....dealt with?”
“Right at the shoot, in the middle of Seaport? It did not create a disturbance?”
“I let him sense me. His curiosity caused him to follow me to a service alley. His heart failed there.”
Janah, “And you, no problems, injuries?”
“He wasn’t very good.”
Chapter Thirty Six
Janah, “Daphne, you have it?”
“Yep. I’m going to watch the session. Amaya can take you home, I’ll arrange a car, there’s no reason for her to make a return trip. Get Paladin their car back.”
They leave, I watch Taylor get photographed in three outfits, one on her own, two with other models. Taylor is so good, morphing from a smile, to a pout, to total indifference in the course of seconds. Done at three, I have a hire car downstairs waiting and we’re back at home in twenty five minutes.
Janah, “Looked interesting.”
“I don’t know that I need to see it again, it was fun seeing Taylor do her thing. She knows her stuff, the photographers know it too. They hardly have to say anything. I had a chance to chat with one, complimented him on his ease with the models. He said working with pros like Taylor makes it simple, she’s on time, she’s not moody, she’s friendly with everyone. The agency rep told me she’s first call for them.”
“Must be, she made two million dollars last year. Susan gave her stuff to our accountants for taxes. Taylor is oblivious to the money. She told Sis that she’s had a few very good years, and that those years are going to get less lucrative soon.”
Nikko, “She’s still got the look, they moving on to fat ugly girls?”
I laugh, “Plus size is an expanding market in America.”
Amaya, “Expanding market is right. The average American woman is a size fourteen. Guess what that means for half of them?”
“Sheesh, that’s over expansion.”
“No, it’s not that, first, she’s not going to age. Perhaps her look will go out of favor for something else, but she’s good at adopting a variety of expressions. Makeup can do the rest. It’s more that she’s getting weary of it, and having too much fun with Amaya at Chapmans. They’ve been talking about expanding into consulting, training and bringing along new models.”
Nikko, “They going to start an agency?”
“No, too time consuming. Girls come to Taylor, either referred by her agency or others, she trains them, including being punctual, polite and prepared. Most of them are fourteen or fifteen, not exactly stable and mature. Taylor explains consequences of adolescent hormonal excess and distractibility.
The rest is model stuff, the walk, the looks. Then she hands them off to the agency, that’s that.”
Nikko, “How is she paid?”
“The agencies charge all the model’s expenses to the model, the tab runs until the work comes in. Whoever hires them cuts a check to the agency, they suck out the expenses and the fee. If there’s money left over, it goes to the model. Most of them don’t make a living. Mom and dad pick up the slack, or they have flexible jobs.”
Nikko, “So Taylor gets paid by the agency.”
“Taylor is doing it differently. She does it free, no charge to the model or the agency. Lacy lets her use the school, there are always girls who want to learn photography, they practice while the models practice. Taylor’s girls get a free portfolio, and don’t run up agency bills.”
Nikko, “God, they must love her.”
“She says it’s as much fun as class at Chapmans. A half dozen Chapmans students are studying with her, beyond the fashion and makeup class.”
“Sounds like something Janah would think up. Just give it away.”
“Amaya did. She and Taylor talked it over, she’s got money of her own, and between Susan and us, she isn’t likely to need to spend much of it. She has no rent, utilities. She has health insurance through Chapmans, closets full of shoes and clothes. Taylor really didn’t need convincing, she saw it immediately.”
“You trusted us. Now you’re a tight-fisted landlord with substantial assets and a healthy income.”
“It is so.”
Amaya is on our private channel, “Taylor and I had a yoga session, she’s in for the evening, I think Zi would like to come over and be with us. Taylor has nothing for the next few days except our work at Chapmans.”
“If she’s definitely staying in. She needs to call if she goes out for any reason.”
I shower, Nikko is getting a massage and Janah checks her head, she’s clear. Amaya and Zi come in halfway through, Nikko on the table in her natural state. Zi takes an interest in Janah’s technique. Amaya opens wine, while Nikko showers off massage lotion, I think over dinner options.
Zi whispers to me, “The women are so beautiful, and so comfortable with each other. The silk robes flow around you.”
“Want to try one?”
Zi nods, smiling.
I find another robe in Amaya’s endless closet, we must have a dozen, Zi is nude in front of Amaya’s mirror.
Zi, “All of you are shaved, Taylor too. What does it feel like?”
“Perhaps you would like to find out.”
She stands in the tub, I defoliate her.
“Now, if you want to go entirely bare, I can give you a Brazilian wax. We do it all the time. Over time, the hair will grow more slowly. If you decide to go for it, there are a couple of simple rules for the two days afterwards, clean, but don’t rub, no fragranced products, give the follicles time to settle. Every time it gets easier, and the need to wax gets less frequent. We all went bald, but you can leave a small strip, or anything else.”
Zi, “You would do that for me? I like they way you look.”
“Lie down and relax. It will sting, after ten minutes, you’ll be fine.”
I buzz her closer while the wax heats, I prepare the strips, coat, stick, zip. She barely flinches. A mild pain is nothing to a monk.
She peeks in the mirror, a slow, adorable smile spread across her face.
Zi, “It is….”
I’m looking, too, “Beautiful, just perfect. Enjoy.”
We join the others.
Janah, “I know Daphne said to take it easy for a couple of days, hands off except for a gentle bath.”
Zi has a tiny blush, “It is acceptable? I guess it’s too late to ask.”
“I never saw the need for a fake humility. You are blessed with beauty, to deny it is to deny the gift.”
Zi sits gingerly on the couch, figures out nothing hurts and relaxes. Like Nishiko, she has a certain self possession, is serious, yet natural. She is less serious than Nikko, few humans are more.
I hear Lacy, go to the door and open it.
Lacy, “Jesus, that hearing, you are weird.”
Nikko says from behind me, “Don’t encourage her.”
Lacy looks around, “Good Lord Janah, how many devastating babes does one girl need?”
“I’m planning on finding out. This is Zi, a friend from the temple assisting Taylor for a while.”
Zi stands, Lacy, “Welcome. Am I intruding?”
Janah, “Of course not. Daphne is thinking up dinner, wine?”