Chapter Forty One
Janah and I are at Marconi's, Dominic sitting across from us, "Thanks for coming by. My brother, Gennaro, has managed to get himself into trouble with the DEA. Gennaro doesn't do drugs, doesn't sell drugs. Considering his underworld life, he knows people who do, but that isn't what got him in trouble."
Janah, "I'm guessing they found drugs in one of his merchandise diversion programs."
Dominic smiles, more of a grimace, "Yeah. He's always had a taste for the life, never could be straight. We're Sicilian, it's in the blood. Mom and dad, they had relatives who worked the shady side, but they opened this place, made a living, then a good living. Bought some property, sold some, made money. When they passed, I was already running the restaurant, Daniela cooked, then she wanted more time and comes in only occasionally, make sure the food is up to snuff. You know all that already though. Gennaro got a load of parts, auto parts. Stuff goes to a warehouse, gets sorted, he sells it in the grey market. Parts stores, mechanics, they love it, cheaper than wholesale, sell it for regular retail. He handles all kinds of merchandise, expensive clothes, jewelry, electronics, whatever comes in has a market. His list of contacts is large, nothing hangs in the warehouse more than a few days. His people know to check for GPS trackers before they bring stuff over, but the DEA has moved up to new levels, they put trackers in with the original boxes, not just trackers shippers use for containers and bulk boxes."
Janah, "The feds have been loading computers with surveillance programs on products shipped via Amazon and others. It's part of the new, ugly, spy on everyone world."
Gennaro, "Geez, is it legal?"
"Nobody knows, it is until some court says it isn't, land of the free is only rhetoric, not reality."
"Christ, what a world. Anyway, the DEA comes busting in five minutes after the crates were unloaded. There were auto parts, there was also cocaine, a lot of it, twenty kis, maybe four hundred grand."
"Big time felony."
"Yeah, big time. Now Gennaro, he don't know about no cocaine, the trackers were in original smaller boxes, like a distributor cap, or a box of plugs. Other boxes were marked this or that, but contained the coke."
"What's his lawyer say?"
"To shut up, which he has."
"I assume his story is the same as most guys, people came to me with overstock, wanted to get rid of it quickly, I bought it, they left. Never saw them before or since."
"That's about it. He's been busted once or twice, receiving stolen, but his lawyer has managed to get charges reduced or dropped. He runs a legit wholesaling and warehouse storage business for just that reason, can say it was a normal business transaction, a lot of merchandise comes in and goes out, he can't know everybody."
"But this wasn't just a warehouse deal."
Dom, "I wish, nope, it was a purchase."
Janah, "He didn't pay four hundred for auto parts, is there a record or any kind. Nobody knowingly sells that much coke for auto parts prices."
Dom, "He paid cash, five grand, it was about forty grand wholesale, another forty retail, but the guys who lifted it, they want quick money and wouldn't know how to efficiently dispose of that much stuff."
"So he sells for twenty, twenty five, everybody's happy."
"Yep, pure capitalism."
Janah, "Don't know what we can do, he's got no history of drug deals. Maybe they buy his story, be happy with the confiscation, he cops to receiving stolen auto parts."
Dominic, "Not so far. There's one guy, thinks he's Serpico or whoever. Wants to get Gennaro to testify against the guys who brought it. He can't. They're his contractors. He tries to rat 'em, he's got no business. He's stuck with his story, has no idea who they are or where they got the parts or where they went."
Janah, "Who's playing hardball?"
"Guy called Morgan, Dell Morgan, real asshole. Besides which, this Morgan is hammering Gennaro for names of his downstream contacts, whoever he was supposed to be selling the coke to. There is no contact, he didn't know about any coke, but Morgan keeps pressing."
"Gennaro out on bail?"
"In the Tombs, bail hearing is a few days from now."
"Getting any grief in jail?"
"Gennaro? No, coupla punks fronted him, just being tough guys, they went to the hospital."
Janah smiles, Gennaro isn't a big guy, but he's in good shape and he's got lots of experience with punks, this wasn't his first, second or third scrape. But prison is dicey, even punks have pals inside, many of which have homemade sharp instruments and bad attitudes.
"We'll look into it."
Dom, "Thanks Janah. I don’t know what you can do either, I'm hoping this Morgan gives up and settles for the big drug confiscation and a headline, but I ain't countin' on it."
We leave, head to the Village Diner.
Chapter Forty Two
"Hey Mini, I know lunch is starting, but can we get a minute, in back?"
Mini, my pal since I was eight or nine, then Janah came along and we've been favorites for the last thousand years. Mini isn't mini, he's three fifty of six feet and change sumo wrestler. Not a real one, just resembles one, face you might confuse with a bulldog, the big kind. He's older now, probably sixty four or five, you still don't want to wind up crosswise with him.
We sit at a plain wooden table in what's labeled a storage room. It serves double duty as a place for people to meet who don't want to be seen meeting. Guys resolving territory issues, politicians with donors they don’t want listed as donors. Walls are stacked with supplies and extra crockery, providing insulation on top of the noise of a busy diner kitchen and Mini's booming voice.
"So, what's the problem?"
Janah, "You know Gennaro Marconi?"
"Sure, get good prices on silverware, plates, kitchen equipment. We don't do a lotta biz, but we've done some. He's got a bigger problem than mystery merchandise I take it. It's bullshit, Gennaro don't do no drugs I ever heard about."
Mini is well connected, he used to be in collections, the kind where some guy owes a loan shark and neglects to pay. Mini provided encouragement, physical encouragement, they paid. He did time more than once, then got tired of time and started cooking for Chuck Stavros, who owns the diner. Made Mini a partner years ago, they've run a very successful busy diner ever since.
"Two things. Gennaro's in the tombs for a few days. First day, he had to put a couple of jerks in the hospital. No trouble with that, happens in prison all the time. But the punks may have friends, you know the drill. Can you put Gennaro off limits?"
Mini, "He ain't gonna have no problems after I make a call, I'll make it soon as we're done."
"Second thing, there a gung ho DEA agent, Dell Morgan, thinks he's personally going to clean up the dope business. He's all over Gennaro and can't seem to grasp that he's going no place. I don't want you to do anything about him, I just want to know about him, don't know if you can help."
Mini, "That'll be second call, you got the same phone?"
"I'll make the calls. When I have something on Morgan, I'll let you know."
He's got customers filing in, we head home, we'll hear from Mini one way or the other.
We go across the street to the Jamaicans discount table, "Hey Juju, Mighty Jim, where's Timothy and Quiet Man?"
"De Seelk, Janah, de mambo girl, dey shopping for fresh goods, you been outta town, ya?"
"In Canada, before that in Rio and Bogota, Chloe did a movie there, action flick."
Juju, "Dat Chloe, Amaya keep her busier dan a hive a honeybees."
"Need a word, can you spare Mighty Jim for a sec?"
"Sure t'ing, been thinkin' of one of Vitale's dogs, maybe you can pick up sometin'."
I go to Mr. Vitale's cart, best hot dogs, bratwurst and sausage on the streets, and so many toppings it's hard to keep them straight.
"Mr. Vitale, good to see you."
"Daphne! Nikko came by and your mom, I no see you inna while, they tell me you in sout' America makin' movies."
"We just visited, Chloe was making a movie, glad to be home, not a fan of either Rio or Bogota. I need whatever Juju and Mighty Jim get, a hot sausage with grilled onion and peppers for me, veggie for Janah, four sodas."
A few minutes later, I have a cardboard tray with the drinks, dogs and a couple bags of chips. We sit on the wall that supports an iron rail fence. Juju eats at his post behind the table, Janah's already told Jim what she wants.
Jim, "Timothy and Quiet Man, dey got dere ear to de groun' on that kinda ting. We smoke ganja, sell some, but no hard stuff. But dey hear dis and dat. Maybe dey hear about somebody lose a lotta coke. Dat kinda ting, it get aroun'. People, dey know somethin', maybe dey can pick up some green for tellin' what dey know."
"Knowledge is power."
Jim, "Way of it. You got de same number?"
"I pass it along, yo mon, Vitale, he make de best dog, set my mout' burnin', worth every bite."
I take a long slug of my Diet Coke, I wanted hot sausage, I got hot sausage. Nikko devours these things, with Vitale's sizzling sauce, I skip that flaming extra.
Dasha, "You will bring us dogs Dahfoney, Eemaya, Chloe, Eloise, Oceane. Nikko, Zi and Daria are work."
"Nyet, we haf already cheeps."
Back at Mr. Vitale's window, "Two smoked with peppers and onions, medium sauce, two hot with hot, one veggie mild."
Then home, we unwrap the dogs, girls enjoy at the table, bowl of black pepper chips to accompany. The second hot is for Eloise, a tiny sprite, as bad as Nikko with spice.
Amaya, "So what is the verdict? We know why you went to see Dominic, I listened in on the chat with Mini, then with Mighty Jim, already told the others. Well, except Oceane, who was off on Venus or wherever."
Oceane is studying her sandwich, recounting the sensations to herself, "Crunchy, sweet, slippery, soft, warm garden."
We leave her awash in the vibe, "We wait. Need to know about Dell Morgan, what he's all blown up about, and if there's a person or gang upset about missing cocaine and auto parts. Gennaro should be okay until he makes bail, the problem is obvious."
Chloe, "What's obvious?
Amaya, "Whoever is missing his coke is going to think about Gennaro, who had the misfortune to buy the wrong stolen auto parts."
Chloe, "Oh, that's not good."
Janah, "What I'm wondering is why the DEA, who had to be tipped off, let the guys who sold the crate to Gennaro disappear? The only arrest was Gennaro and a couple of his guys. According to Dom, the DEA showed up five minutes after they left. They had to be watching the place."
Amaya, "Gennaro knew the guys though, did not Dom say they were contractors?"
Janah, "Yes, he did. Which makes one suspicious, if the contractors tipped off the DEA, then they knew what was in the crates. It explains why they walk. But Gennaro is hardly an idiot, if I'm suspicious, so is he, and he's not a guy you want to get upwind of."
Amaya, "That could mean the contractors were coerced, or they were paid to tag Gennaro by a competitor. He is not the only guy who buys crates that accidentally fall off trucks and rail cars."
Janah, "Good call, you ought to write mysteries."
Chloe laughs, Amaya grins, Dasha says, "Eemaya writes better meesterie, she will use this one to make new meesterie book, maybe wiz Vesnushki to save Gennaro from crook DEA man."
Amaya, "The Belarusian Brat has stumbled onto something."
Janah, "Yes, be interesting to learn more about Dell Morgan."
Chloe, "Dasha, what makes you think the DEA agent is no good."
Dasha rolls her eyes, "Vesnushki, he ees cop police person, already no good. Take bribe, protect creeminal, steal dope from evidence place, sell gun. Go to court and lie about everything, make up story. “Vse politseyskiye prestupniki.”
Amaya, "Commiespeak, what did she say?"
Oceane, "All cops are criminals."
Chapter Forty Three
It's tea time, Nikko, Zi and Daria are home from a hard day of making money, we recap for them.
Zi, "It sounds like Dasha's observation is valid, I mean, I don't know if all cops are criminals, but the DEA agent sounds at the least bullheaded."
"I think it's more often than not. Police are rewarded by arrests and citations, not by fairness. You promote people who make arrests or issue tickets, they're going to make arrests and issue tickets. And they are overwhelmingly supported if it gets to court. It's naive to expect anything else."
"So young, so cynical."
"Show me I'm wrong, I'll recant, until then, I don't trust any cop I don't know and the ones I know frequently cut corners."
Dasha is weary of social philosophy, "Dahfoney, we haf to get bean heated, make cornbreading."
Except Oceane, the girls go off to relax and freshen for dinner, Dasha and I have it pretty simple today, the cooking was yesterday. Just put the two pots on low heat, keep them stirred. I pull out my trusty cast irons and create the cornbread, she's chopping fresh jalapeno. Mix, pour into skillets and in the oven. We hang out waiting to stir, beans will stick to the bottom of the pot and will burn rather quickly even on low heat. Best to visit every ten minutes and swish them around a few times.
Oceane is drawing something on her pad, black and white this time, I peek at the cornbread, doing fine, then I peek over Oceane's shoulder. How sweet, it appears to be Dasha and I over the stove, facing each other. It's only an outline now, but I have a ladle in my hand, Dasha the kitchen knife she uses to chop. It looks vaguely like we're going to battle.
Dasha, "Dahfoney, you will steer bean, I will keek qi dummy."
She goes off, I hear one of the bags, which is in the shape of a body, rolling across the room. The qi dummies hang from a track system so we can push them against a wall when they aren't in use. She's got the middle size one. We have a skinny, a muscular mid size and a fat boy. The pressure points are the same, but harder to get to on the muscular and fat ones. With a clean shot on a meridian, the dummy buzzes. One second for a light tap, two for a decent, painful shot, three for a disabling hit. Dasha loves the things, and her powerful gymnastics body connects with three second shots. If it was a real person, they couldn't walk, crawl or babble, nerves would be paralyzed, muscles spasming painfully. Two pressure points on the body, hit the right way, can kill, bet you'd like to know what they are? One way to find out, attack one of the family, Dasha will demonstrate for you, on you.
Must be cocktail hour, I hear ice clink in glasses, liquid pouring. Amaya uses Russian Standard, cold, straight shots for Daria and Eloise, over ice for Dasha, Chloe and her. Dasha likes a dash of bitters, as does Amaya, Chloe prefers an olive and a cocktail onion. The rest are wine drinkers, including champagne, Janah's favorite, but she won't pass on wine. They mostly drink red, but Oceane likes white and champagne, so I keep Pinot Grigio and Graves, the dry white variety, chilled. Today it's Graves.
Oceane tastes, "Apricot, cold," she cocks one ear to her glass, like she's listening to it, "it is glad to be enjoyed, a happy wine."
Amaya, "Oceane, I adore you, you're strange, maybe even stranger than Dasha-brat and the mouse."
The mouse is Eloise, she crawls around her machines and wires in the workshop
sniffing them for potential faults failures.
Oceane, "This wine speaks French."
"What did the wine say?"
"Je suis heureux que vous me voulez."
Janah, "I am glad you want me."
Oceane speaks French, Russian, Japanese and Chinese, doesn't read them, but listens to our native speakers. I can barely spit out English and Chinese, but I have Janah's brain, so if someone is speaking one of them, she knows enough to translate. She's fluent in Chinese and French, conversational in Japanese, Spanish and Russian.
Of everyone, I have the honor of being the most linguistically incompetent.
Janah, "Do you want to learn Italian Oceane?"
"I will listen to Chianti next time, it will tell me."
Amaya, "I wish my books told me what to write."
Oceane, "They would, you only have to touch the screen, although it would be better if you wrote on paper, with a new pencil."
Amaya, "In any other family, you would be taking medication, but then so would the rest of us."
Oceane, "My body makes medicine, I feel it. I like to be still and feel the blood going all over."
"Can you make the blood go to one spot or another?"
Oceane thinks this over, I guess it's thinking, she stares off someplace, "It knows where it needs to go."
I know where I need to go, to the stove. I dish out plates of beans and brown rice, Dasha hands them around, butter up the cornbread, stack it on platters and put them on the table.
Chapter Forty Four
Before we go to bed, Janah asks, "I have a bizarre question, but I’m curious, beans you make never give us gas. What do you do?"
"We use the quick soak method with dried beans. You can let them soak overnight, but the results are better if you bring them to a boil for a minute or so, then let them soak for an hour. I add a bit of baking soda as well. When the hour is up, I drain and rinse them, then add more water, bring them to a boil again for a few minutes, dump that water, then cook with the third. That does the trick."
"I never thought to look it up, I guess it's on Google."
"Ms. Alva did the baking soda thing, but she let them soak overnight. The quick soak method came along later. I happened on it a few years ago. We didn't make a lot of red or white beans until Dasha came along and she fished through all the recipes. Beans are high protein and fiber, adding various peppers gives an already healthy dish extra nutrition. The ones we do for you and Oceane are the healthiest, no fat other than a bit of grapeseed oil. "
Janah, "The cornbread is addictive, I ate two fat chunks, I couldn't quit."
"Words to warm a chef's heart. Didn't hear from Mini yet?"
"Nope, he'll call if he finds out anything about Dell Morgan. Nothing from Juju, but they had to talk to Timothy and Quiet Man first. I feel bad for Gennaro, under all the Italian posturing, he's a gentleman, at least with us. I haven't seen him with his pals or competitors."
"The business they're in isn't like drugs. They don't go around shooting up the place, I doubt Gennaro has a gun. The people in the theft business tend to have regular sources, they don't tread into other territories, it's not a gunpoint transaction. Even the trucks they rob, the driver is paid off, tied up so it looks good, they didn't even unload. They have their own tractor rig, unhook the company trailer, hook it up to their rig, drive away. Unload at a warehouse, haul the trailer to some side road and abandon it. In the new tech world, they have to disable the GPS in the trailer or drive it someplace neutral and unload it, then to Gennaro’s warehouse."
Janah, "Where did you pick up all that?"
"Should have known. Suppose I tell you a bedtime story and let's get some sleep."
What a great plan. Janah frequently tells me bedtime stories, has since we were fifteen. Always a version of the same story, it's called Daphne Gets An Orgasm.
Always sleep the sleep of the naughty when Janah does her thing, feeling splendid this morning, I have waffles, poached eggs and bacon in mind as I head down the stairs to my kitchen domain.
Dasha is already stirring waffle batter, has twenty eggs lined up and the bacon ready to fry. I kiss her cheek,
"What's my assignment?"
"You will fry bacon, when waffle ees done, we will keep in warm oven while aig poaching. Greets are cook, need to steer up, take off heat. Coffee ees already feex. Tea een pot."
She's a wonder. Don't know if it's the coffee or the bacon, but girls surround our table, bowls of berries and heavy cream as a warm-up while we poach eggs. Then a platter of eggs, one of bacon, stack of waffles and a bowl of buttery grits.
Chloe, "Waffle heaven, eggs perfect, grits sublime, we live in the best restaurant in the world."
"Happy to make you happy," I taste a hunk of waffle slathered in cane and maple syrup, she has a point, man these are good.
Nikko, "They taste different, what did you use?"
Dasha, "Buhtermeelk, ees more reech bahter."
Nikko, "Buttermilk is tangy, these waffles aren't."
"Add sugar, vanilla just a leetle, meex butter in bahter."
Amaya, "Good Lord, one million calorie waffles, worth every one, you are splendid Dasha. Besides, Oceane says I should write on paper with a pencil. That will burn far more calories than typing and I still have to get the text in a word processor anyway."
Eloise, "We can make a program that will convert handwriting to text."
Amaya, "Don't you have to scan every page?"
Eloise, "Yes, but there are too many steps. A scan is just a picture, you have to scan the document from PDF, or use handwriting on a tablet screen. It's messy, slow and inaccurate."
"That sounds torturously tedious."
Eloise, "What I want to do is write a program that reads handwritten text right off the page and converts it to typed. The first version may have to go through Notepad, Word is really fussy about spacing and fonts. You would load your handwritten pages into a printer, the scan would operate, but directly into typed text. You would see the text appear on your screen as it was scanned. It will miss things at first, we have to train it to understand your handwriting, other than that it’s going to print what it sees. Maybe not even a Word document, we can make our own, simplified. It's not like you need fifty fonts and multiple spacing and paragraph choices. Word has too many features for most users, and all that stuff gets in the way."
Amaya, "How do I burn the waffle calories?"
Eloise giggles, "Well, you have to load the pages, then edit the text document. Or I can give you multiple orgasms."
Amaya, "Then you should proceed."
Daria, "We will need to get Susan. I have a few code ideas, I have to get a better understanding of what happens to a scanned document from a printer."
Eloise, "I can take apart a printer, then we'll figure out what the bits are that go to the computer, and what the computer does with them, it should be pretty straightforward. May be diagrammed online someplace, maybe hack HP or some other printer company, steal the code."
We've lost them, they go wandering up to the workshop to dismantle a printer, or steal a diagram and the code, may not see them again for weeks, have to shove food under the door. Better alert Sis.
"Hey there, traveling soon?"
Susan, "Not for a few weeks, then we go to London, from there to Denmark and Sweden, I'm thinking boring will be relaxing."
"You may not get much chance. It's a long story, but Eloise and Daria have decided to simplify converting handwritten text to typed text in a word processor."
Susan, "They have OCR now, for PDF files, some other stuff."
"Eloise wants to be able to load handwritten pages into a printer and have the words appear as text on the screen as they are scanned, available for editing on the spot."
"Okay, that's not going to be simple."
"If it was simple, they'd hire Microsoft to do it, besides, they want it to work. Anyway, Eloise or Daria will be calling, I'm just checking in and giving you a heads up."
Sis, “How in hell did this come up?"
"Oceane told Amaya her writing would be even better if she let a real pencil and paper speak to her."
Sis, "Your family dropped down the rabbit hole a long time ago.."
"You have to speak to Janah about that, I just cook food and kill people."
"I'm getting a call from Daria, see you."