Chapter Forty One I
When Daphne enters a room, hearts stop, then melt.
Dr. Epstein had been one of James’ instructors in medical school and was now Chief of Psychiatry at a lower west side Manhattan hospital. Mrs. Epstein had retired relatively young from a successful career in investment banking and still served on a couple of corporate boards. The Epstein’s weren’t super rich by today’s standards, but their net worth ran well into eight figures. Today, Kara, Mrs. Epstein, Janah and I are headed towards an upscale east side restaurant she favors.
Janah, in her favored outfit, a long skirt, white hair hanging loosely to her neck, absorbing sapphire blue eyes absorbing me (I admire how well Janah prioritizes) in a black silk mini skirt and snug long sleeved pullover.
There is a rush of attentive staff pulling out chairs. In the fuss, no one noticed that we slipped into our chairs at the same instant, took the proffered napkins in our left hands, folded them into triangles and placed them on our laps with identical motions precisely at the same moment. We place our hands in our laps and turn to each other.
“Nice place. I’m feeling very all that.”
Janah, “You’re very all that in this place or any other.”
Mrs. Epstein orders a vodka martini, then whispers to Kara, “I’ve lived in Manhattan forever dear and I don’t recall ever seeing more of an impression than that made by your daughter and her friend. I come here frequently and have known Maurice for years. Today, on the way to the table, he asked me if I had moved from investment banking to managing starlets. It seemed like the whole restaurant stopped to watch them walk to the table. Do the girls know how they turn heads?”
Kara, “I guess. They don’t appear to be taken by any of it. Daphne got those incredible legs from her mom; she doesn’t mind the attention, she doesn’t have to do much to get it. She’s naturally animated, I don’t think she’s ever met a stranger. People like her, and she’s genuinely interested in them. I swear she knows everybody in the Village, not just to say hi. She can tell you what they do, who they know, their kids names, their pets names, the kind of food they like and how they spend their free time. She’s her own reverse Facebook.”
“Your daughter is very quiet. One feels so comfortable with her. She listens so intently.”
“She lets Daphne do most of the talking, they think remarkably alike and know each other inside out. You could almost say they read each other’s minds.”
Mrs. Epstein turns her attention to us, “I think you’ll enjoy this place. There’s enough variety on the menu to keep us interested. Our waiter is Charles, he’s an old friend and he’ll tell us what specialties the chef has created today.”
Charles appears, “Mrs. Epstein, how delightful to see you, and in the company of such charming guests. May I make a few suggestions?”
He describes the chef’s concoctions for the day. From Mrs. Epstein’s experience, there will be no poor choices.
Behind Mrs. Epstein, a voice inquires, “How is our favorite customer? Charles is no doubt doing his usual stellar job?”
Mrs. Epstein, “Chef Villaume, how nice to see you. May I introduce my friends, Kara Svensson, her daughter Janah and her friend Daphne Sylk.”
“Bonjour madam and mademoiselles. Welcome. May I ask, do you have any special requests?”
Mrs. Epstein, “Well, you know I trust your recommendations. Perhaps my guests have requests,” she turned to Janah and me, “or shall we let Chef Villaume decide?”
I blazed my most devastating smile, “If it’s not too much trouble please, Janah is a vegetarian and I like fish.”
Chef, “I know exactly what to prepare for Mademoiselle Janah. I have been waiting for such an inspiration. As for the fish, I found the most extraordinary sea bass at market this morning.”
Kara, “I leave it entirely in your hands,” Mrs. Epstein nodded her agreement.
Lunch is beyond remarkable, my entree a thick filet of splendidly white sea bass, crusted on top with a dusting of chopped almonds, sautéed in a light butter and herb sauce.
Mrs. Epstein and Kara have an exquisite pot pie of seafood and creamy romelaude, served in a flaky crispy crust, a perfect buttery croissant texture. Janah’s vegetable plate is simplicity itself, barely browed medley of peppers, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, onion, eggplant medallions on a bed of fresh shredded and lightly steamed spinach.
I am impressed, “Woooow. Mrs. Epstein, this place is fabulous. The chef knows his way around a sea bass. Janah said her vegetables were beyond splendid.”
Mrs. Epstein, “She’s so quiet, I didn’t hear her say anything.”
“She speaks softly, but carries big appetite.”
Janah, “You sidestepped that one.”
“Yeah, I have to remember not everyone knows about the mentaling.”
Mrs. Epstein, “I think the girls must have brought out the very best he had to offer. Today Chef was inspired.”
“Janah has that effect on people. I just tag along and reap the benefits.”
Chef comes back as we finish our entrees. I stand, as tall as Chef Villaume, and give him a kiss on the cheek. “That was the most exquisite fish I’ve ever eaten. You are an artist.”
Chef beams, ‘Merci Mademoiselle Daphne.’
“May I ask,” I couldn’t resist a little showing off, and started to reel off the herbal mixture on the fish and whether it had been marinated in the herbs or were they added when grilled. I inquired into how much of each and the cooking temperature. Chef Villaume and I excuse ourselves and disappear into the kitchen.
I pepper him with questions. Then start chatting with the various kitchen staff, the sous chef, pastry chef and anyone else in earshot, including a kid cutting vegetables into elaborate designs.
“May I make a suggestion?’
The kid, talking to my legs, says, “Sure!”
I decide he is clearly a connoisseur, with charming focus.
I take the razor sharp paring knife and show him how to cut a radish so that it unfolds like an accordion into a series of diamonds.
“Stack it like a fence around a spring of radicchio. Now you do it.”
He has talent with the small blade and soon has a dozen radishes all circling the purple white slices of lettuce standing in the center.
“The red and purple clash a bit, once the customer tastes the crunchy combination with a little horseradish mayonnaise, the colors will be a celebration. If you want something less splashy use shallots or celery. It’s a fun garnish and if you use fresh tangy horseradish, a little palate kicker. I suggest you grate your own and mix it with the mayo until you get a taste you think is sexy but not deadly.”
Chef Villaume is back at the table, “Mademoiselle Daphne is enchanting everyone in my kitchen. What a delightful young lady. She has extraordinary senses, she would make a superb chef.”
He asks, “And Mademoiselle Janah, was my dish acceptable?”
Janah smiles, blue eyes sparkling, “C’est perfect, les legumes étaient merveilleux, vos sauces sont superbes, comme Daphne dit, vous sont vraiment un artiste.”
(the vegetables were wonderful, your sauces superb, as Daphne said, you are truly an artist.)
Chef starts to reply, then didn’t.
Mrs. Epstein, “Chef Villaume, I don’t think I have ever seen you at a loss for words.”
He looks over to Kara, “These are remarkable young people. You are to be congratulated Madame Svensson.”
I return, “You have a very knowledgeable staff, Chef Villaume.”
Still the show off, I proceed to rattle off everyone’s name, where they are from and their kitchen specialty. Just as I finish, the sous chef appears, “Daphne, please, can you spare a moment? I am preparing something special for tonight’s beef and I think you might enjoy observing the preparation.”
“Oh yes, I’m coming,” then to the others at the table, “Enjoy dessert, I’ll be back shortly.”
I return with Chef Paul to the kitchen, he’s talking a mile a minute, me nodding attentively. He is a wealth of information, I’m packing it into Janah’s brain as fast as he verbalizes it.
Chef Villaume, “This cannot be! Chef Paul is most protective of his secrets, and this recipe is his new baby. I could barely get him to tell me what he was up to and now he freely shares his secret with Mademoiselle Daphne. She is an enchantress.”
Janah giggles, “Daphne est une sorcière dans la cuisine aussi bien, un chef formidable, et une merveille d'organisation.”
(Daphne is a sorceress in the kitchen as well, an excellent chef, a marvel of organization.)
Chef, “Quand elle est plus âgée, peut-être je peux la persuader que la travailler ici?”
(When she is older, perhaps I can persuade her to work here?)
Janah, “Serait enchantée simplement que vous avez demandé.”
(She would be delighted that you simply asked.)
The waiter places a fruit pastry in front of each of them.
Chef, “This is made with Mme. Janah in mind, who I think will appreciate its subtlety.”
The dessert is a light, airy toasted meringue crust, the freshest berries in a special lemon orange marinade with a silky crème fraiche just coating, not drowning, the berries.
Chef, “J'espère que vous l'apprécierez.”
(I hope you will enjoy it.)
Janah, “Aucune question, merci.”
(No question, thank you)
He returns to his kitchen. The three women plunged into the dessert, which is remarkable for its subtle combination of tangy aromatic fruit flavor and a hint of sweetness.
Ten minutes later, I’m back with Chef Villaume in tow, “She has my entire kitchen at her fingertips. Mademoiselle Daphne is, as Mademoiselle Janah suggested, an organizational wonder.’
He says to Janah, “I took the liberty of asking her to consider joining my staff when she is older if she has the slightest interest. You have no idea how difficult it is to find people with the extraordinary sense of aroma and taste…she has ‘le disposition,’ the natural ability.”
As we leave, Chef Villaume walks us to the door, “I need to ask permission of Mme. Janah. I would like to add her dessert to my menu and call it Ange Blanc, White Angel. Would that be permitted?”
Janah replies, “Ce serait une honneur. Je suis le plus flatté, monsieur.”
(It would be an honor. I am most flattered, sir.)
“It sounds so delectable in French, Ange Blanc.”
Janah, “I can hardly object to White Angel, it is very kind of him.”
As we make our way out, the kitchen door opened and there was a chorus of “Bon Jour Daphne, hurry back Daphne, come and see us soon Daphne.”
The other patrons look up from their meals, trying to figure out why I knew everyone in the kitchen and they had to wait weeks for a reservation. Outside, Janah takes my arm as we walk to Mrs. Epstein’s.
Chapter Forty Two I
A good parent is neither their child’s friend, nor their authority.
It’s a job description all its own, unlike anything else.
Dr. James Svensson
The next week, James and Kara are at the Epstein’s for a drink before going out to dinner.
Mrs. Epstein, after a sip or her martini, said, “Chef Villaume has had anyone who is anyone in his place and he has named nothing on the menu for any guest I’m aware of. Janah has remarkable presence. This is New York for God’s sake. It takes an earthquake to make people pay attention, something grander than a mere act of God to say they’re impressed. Daphne charmed the socks off everyone in the kitchen − she can waltz in and out of there at will. The two of them together are an irresistible force.”
Dr. Epstein, “I must get to know these young ladies. She is fluent in French, James?”
James, “You know, she has never actually spoken it before. Kara, did you know Janah speaks French?’
Kara, “She learned it at Chapmans, the school has an extensive language lab and Lacy tells me Janah spends a good deal of time in there.”
Dr. E, “Wait a minute James. You didn’t know your own daughter can speak a foreign language?”
James, “Bernie, she’s eidetic, or a memorist. We don’t think she’s strictly either, she doesn’t just remember by visualization or by making rhymes. She remembers everything she wants to, first time out. It’s like she has a “save” button in her head. More than that, she understands what she reads, it’s not just regurgitation from an abnormally astute memory. Who knows what she knows?”
Dr. E, “Fascinating. And the other girl, Daphne? Martha describes them as fitting together hand in glove.”
Kara, “Susan and Chris would verify Martha’s observation. It’s perfect communion between them all the time. Janah adores her, and Daphne reciprocates in every way and more.”
Dr. Epstein, “I don’t have to tell you James, that this is remarkable. She’s an eidetiker, and possesses a unique empathetic focus. Do you sometimes worry that she absorbs too much?”
“No,” James and Kara say simultaneously.
Kara, “We keep a close eye out. James talks to both of them regularly.”
She skirted the mentaling, not time for that now, “They’re fine with our questions. Actually, they tell us what’s going on without us asking. When we ask, we get as complete an answer as they can give.”
“And Daphne’s parents?” asks Dr. Epstein.
James, “Daphne’s parents tell us that they have no problems with the constant togetherness. They think as we do; that we are blessed they found each other. They are healthy as horses, neither of them has ever been sick. They both started menstruating a month ago,” he didn’t mention that it was the same day at the same moment, “a bit early, but everything else normal. Almost normal.”
Dr. Epstein’s curiosity was peaked, “Something unusual?”
James thought about how to word it, “It’s something I felt, but hadn’t been able to describe, even to myself. Then Kara said something that did it for me. She said they don’t treat us like children exactly, but like slow learners.”
Kara, “We have these expectations of parent-child, nurturer-nurtured, and they turn it around.”
Dr. Epstein, “So your girls provide you with as many life lessons as you provide them.”
James looked up, “More.”
He tells them about the endless examples of caring, taking care of each other. How we discussed heady philosophical and neurological topics, examined human behavior, Janah’s role at Chapmans, my fearlessness in both martial arts and striking up conversations with complete strangers. How complete strangers unloaded their stories on Janah without being asked a single question. They talk for another hour and a half.
Later that evening, Dr. Epstein is alone in his office. It is late. He’d spent two hours writing up what he’d learned about the us. He names the file “Girls.” He is tired. He saves the file, clicks the computer off and retires for the night.
Chapter Forty Three I
Evil is frequently ignorance, and compassion can be for the ignorance versus a judgment of evil.
Still, ignorance can require a strong response, deterrence can be appropriate,
but not within the emotion of hate.
We are in James’ office, Janah has questions about a disturbing movie she and I watched called An American Crime.
Janah, “I’ve read enough to know there’s a lot of disgusting and cruel behavior by parents, relatives or caretakers towards children. Daphne and I aren’t naïve. This movie was based on a true story of a case in the mid nineteen sixties. A woman imprisoned and tortured a teenage girl, and encouraged other children to participate in the torture, which they did. No one would help her. The story only came out after they finally killed her. My question is, in your experience, how much of this kind of thing do people get away with? I mean, I know you can’t know about cases that never surface. I just want an educated guess.”
James sees something in his daughter he hadn’t seen before. Janah didn’t get flustered or aggravated. It isn’t that now. It is her grim intensity that strikes him.
“Well, Janah, it’s a very small percentage of the population, but the population is pretty big. So in total numbers, it’s large, an average of more than 2,400 children per day.
I am flustered, “Geez!”
James continues, “Sixty percent of victims experienced neglect, meaning a caretaker failed to provide for the child's basic needs. Twenty percent experienced physical abuse, ten percent sexual abuse. Seven percent are victims of emotional abuse, which includes constant criticizing, rejecting, or refusing to nurture a child.
Janah, “Twenty percent is almost five hundred kids a day.”
James, “Yes. And an average of nearly four children die every day as a result of child abuse or neglect.”
Janah, “That’s just the reported cases. The actual number must be at least twice that.”
James, “I’m afraid so.”
“Why does America run around the world trying to tell other countries what to do when we have a thousand children a day being beaten or sexually abused?”
James, “That, Daphne, is a very good question.”
James watches Janah staring at nothing, she says, “I saw something a few years ago, I told mom just a bit, but never really talked about it until I found Daphne. Coming home from school, I saw a man slap a woman and drag her to his car. There was a child of five with them, petrified. The man was going to hit him too. I said something, he pushed me. The little boy slipped into the car. The man got in and drove off.”
James, “I could say I’m sorry you had to see it, but you did. It weighs on you still. Perhaps that’s not all bad. I guess that sounds cold.”
Janah, “No, it sounds right. Platitudes wouldn’t help, you know that. I could push it aside, I don’t want to. Some things should not be forgotten.”
It is quiet in his office, the walls soundproofed for patient confidentiality. His stomach knotted as he watches one tear trail down Janah’s soft cheek. She looks at me, I wipe the tear and take her hand. We stand together and leave silently.
In the years to come, James would find himself recalling this moment.
Chapter Forty Four I
The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.
Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles
James, Kara, Janah and I are at the Epstein’s for dinner. Dr. Epstein asked James to watch a video of an interview with a man suspected of being involved in investment fraud and perhaps murder.
Dr. Epstein isn’t officially a consultant to the NYPD. He has several friends with significant contacts sprinkled around various city, state and federal agencies. Over the years, the network had slowly grown. The original contacts had moved up in rank and power in the various agencies where they worked. One in the NYPD, another in the DA’s office, another in the federal judicial system, an FBI department head, others in the vast state and federal bureaucracies. Now, there are a dozen trusted associates, with another two dozen secondary contacts circling the original twelve planets. Dr. Epstein had become the central body, the sun if you will, of this system. It worked because almost anything could be labeled “patient confidentiality.” Information flowed to Dr. Epstein, he beamed it back out as necessary, or simply filed it away for later use.
It isn’t a government within a government. Most of the twelve didn’t know the others. It worked better that way. There is a trusted central place to give or get information, to move things along, break up logjams between or within agencies. They use it when they need a shortcut around endless forms and stalled requests. It is also completely out of reach of incompetent and self interested politicians who game the system for reasons of their own.
This case came to Dr. Epstein for his professional skills not his network of contacts. The NYPD was in a blind alley on a murder investigation. They are looking for something on the suspect they might use to detain him. If Dr. Epstein came up empty, they were stuck, and the bad guy would walk. The interview is about 20 minutes long. From her spot in the living room, Janah could see the video playing in Dr. Epstein’s office, but couldn’t hear the subject’s answers. With my sensitive ears, I might have heard it, except I am in the kitchen with Mrs. Epstein. After the video ends, the two psychiatrists come back into the living room. Mrs. Epstein and I joined Janah a minute earlier.
Janah, “Whatever the man on the video is talking about, he is lying about some of it.”
Dr. Epstein asks, “Did you hear the interview?”
Janah shakes her head no.
Dr. Epstein, “Then how can you know he’s lying?”
I volunteer, “She knows. If she had heard the interview along with seeing it, she could tell you the things he was lying about. If you don’t want us to hear it, she can tell you the parts where he lied.”
Dr. Epstein said to James, “Do you mind if the girls watch the video. It would have to be between us.”
James, “It won’t go any further than them one way or the other.”
Dr. Epstein thought might be interesting to let her see it with no sound. To see what she picked up as visual cues for lying. He asks James to step in the other room first.
When they are alone he asks, “Can we try it without the sound, as an experiment? I don’t want to push her or take advantage. What if she’s vague or, worse, dead wrong? I don’t want to embarrass her.”
James smiles, “She won’t be wrong.”
Dr. Epstein looks skeptical.
James, “If she says he’s lying, he’s lying.”
They play the video again, with the sound off. Janah’s eyes never leave the screen; when she spots something she says, “There.”
Dr. Epstein makes a note of the time on the recorder.
Janah explains what she saw, “The first lie was when he moved his hand up to his mouth. At the same moment, he looked away from the interviewer, just for an instant, almost an eye blink, to his lower left. He recovered quickly and went on answering the question. The second time, he frowned, not a pout, just a downturn of his lips. I didn’t catch the significance at first. He covered by quickly pulling at his lower lip with his left hand, to make it look like he was thinking the answer over. The last one was obvious, when he pushed his hand towards the interviewer. Whatever the interviewer was talking about, he was anxious to push away. He smiled only with his lips, his eyes were filled with hate. This man is extremely violent.”
“Okay,” said Dr. Epstein, We’ll replay the tape and tie in what was being said with those specific movements.”
The first question was, “Have you ever been to Columbus Ohio?”
“Just passed through once," hand shifts to mouth, "I was making a flight connection and the flight out was cancelled. Had to spend the night and leave the next day. They put me up in some dump of a Holiday Inn.”
The second time the question was about a meeting held in New York in the financial district in the early evening, around eight.
“I didn’t go to a meeting in the financial district,” hint of a frown, he pulls his lip, fakes a smile, "At eight, I was having dinner with a very attractive companion at a restaurant in midtown. You can check with the maitre’d. He’ll remember. I’m a good tipper.”
The third question was more of a statement.
The interviewer said, “Valerie Perl wrote a large check to Rangetree Partners. Now she and her lawyer are dead.”
Before he could follow up with a question, the suspect pushed his hand out, saying, “I’ve already told you, I don’t know any Valerie, don’t know anything about a lawyer, or Rangetree Partners. I don’t need money, I have money. I don’t need or want partners; they’re a pain in the ass.”
Janah, “Dr. Epstein, I’d like to know about the crime itself. What led to murder?” Can you find out?”
Dr. Epstein, “I don’t see why not. I’ll call you when I have the story.”