Chapter Forty Five I
Beware the man who offers you a reward, in this life or the next.
The next day James told us, “Bernie has the facts of the crime. If you wish, we’ll go over early for Sunday’s luncheon and he’ll give us the details.”
James, Janah and I go to the Epstein’s at ten Sunday morning. The moms would join us at noon for one of Mrs. Epstein’s extravaganzas.
Mrs. Epstein meets us at the door, “Hello my dears, give me hugs. I know you want to talk to Bernie, I’ll bring in refreshments in a few minutes.”
“I smell brie with basil and pepper warming up to room temperature. What else? Obviously something roasting, chicken? No, duck, the scent is richer, and orange sauce.”
Mrs. Epstein, “That nose, what a talent! It’s like you’re standing over the stove.”
Janah, “And making me hungry.”
I laugh, “She just ate….well, skip the details, let’s say she just ate. A taxi ride burned all your breakfast calories?”
Janah shrugs, “It was bumpy.”
Mrs. Epstein, “I’ll bring some nibbles along with tea and coffee. Now go, Bernie’s dying to tell you the story.”
We settle on the couch after hugging Dr. Epstein. Settle exactly together, on the edge of the couch, backs straight, left ankle over right at precisely the same moment, then left arm across the lap, left hand covered by right hand. We look at each other briefly and turn to Dr. Epstein as if on cue.
Dr. Epstein glances at James, who turns his palms up as if to say, ‘who knows?’
Dr. Epstein, “The suspect created and carried out several fraudulent investment schemes. The difficulty was proving it. Your observations gave the police reason to press harder. The scam was an upscale one, not as long term or slick as Madoff, but in a way, smarter. First, he created an investment company and a track record of extraordinary success out of thin air.”
Janah, “Everything was fake?”
Dr. Epstein, “Yes. He created lengthy, convoluted legal documents, threw in offshore bank names to add to the mystique, even references to call. Pony up only $100,000 to be first investors in a new fund with the same brilliant management. Printing up phony track records is easy. Put down any numbers you like, print it on the very finest bond paper, and wrap in a leather binder.”
Mrs. Epstein comes in, followed by one of the catering staff with a tray of refreshments on a rolling cart. She joins the us on the couch.
Janah, “Yum, green tea with fresh ginger.’
Mrs. Epstein, “Daphne says it’s your favorite.”
Janah, “Yes. She kindly remembers my preferences.”
I ask, “How did they find customers? Is that what they are?”
Dr. Epstein, “Financial advisors call them clients, Martha says. In this case suckers is the more accurate term. But to answer your question, the suspect, Mikhail Kleshinko, found two disgraced stockbrokers to locate clients and sell the fund.”
Mrs. Epstein, “A lot of the financial business is scummy under the veneer of polished mahogany and idling town cars. The two men he’d hired to sell the deal had been kicked out of the securities business for pump and dump penny stock scams.”
Dr. Epstein, “Unable to pursue the old swindle, the two salesmen were hungry for a new game. No money meant no more champagne dinners at upscale restaurants, no more babes who will do anything for a ride in the limo, some coke and a night at a velvet rope club. The boys, let’s call them Snake and Toad, were primed for another gig.”
“How’d they hook up?”
Mrs. Epstein, “Their names were listed in the financial newspapers under regulatory actions. Mikhail Kleshinko, the star of the video, sees that these guys have been tossed out of the securities business. If you want to find trash, look in the garbage section.”
Janah, “I’ve read about versions of these things. One would think that with all the media reports of scams, it would be hard to raise money.”
James, “Kleshinko knows something about human nature. People want to believe the Gods selected them. By the time he finishes romancing them on the phone, they consider themselves lucky to be included.”
“So how does the scam work exactly? People put money into a fund, like a mutual fund or something, right?”
Mrs. Epstein, “He calls it a hedge fund, Daphne. It’s the sexy thing right now. Another trick to make investors feel separate from the common crowd.”
Dr. Epstein, “Except, in this fund, as soon as any one of the investors starts asking for cash out of their account, the investment fund that never was just evaporates. Phones disconnected, no address is valid, no more statements, nothing, not even a wet spot on the pavement. Money was never invested in anything anyway. It went straight to offshore accounts in the names of shell corporations. Twenty or so investors at a time, a million to two million invested in each fund, after the 3rd or 4th fantasy fund, it starts to look like real money.”
I was impressed, “Dang. That’s slick. How did they mess up? And why did it result in murder?”
Dr. Epstein, “The murder itself apparently went down because Snake and Toad stupidly met with a dissatisfied client, Valerie Perl, and her lawyer, Denny Haskell. Kleshinko had told them specifically to sell the deal, get the check. When the check cleared, he paid them. The only phone number they were supposed to give the client was Kleshinko’s office number. When he folded a fund, the number evaporated. The two front men were supposed to be invisible once the client signed on. Snake had grown suspicious of Kleshinko, remember, they never actually met him. Snake gave the woman his own cell number when she promised to call as soon as she transferred the funds to her checking account.”
“Why’d he break protocol?”
Dr. Epstein, “He thought if she called Kleshinko directly, he might get the check himself and skip paying them. While they’d never been stiffed before, he’d gotten suspicious of Kleshinko’s invisibility. Obviously they knew things were fishy from the start, Kleshinko’s instructions never to give a client your personal number, don’t contact them again once the deal is sold. Let’s remember Snake and Toad weren’t poster boys for integrity in the first place. They got paid promptly, they went along. She did call Snake and she did write the check. By pure accident, her lawyer called her the next day on an unrelated matter. When she mentioned her investment, his attorney antennae twitched. He had the documentation couriered to his office, copied it and made notes on his discoveries. There was no backup of prior employment, schools or any record of Rangetree Partners hedge fund or any other investment fund of that name. The lawyer knew Rangetree was a fraud.”
“So even a minimum of checking would have warned off other investors?”
Mrs. Epstein, “Yes. Some people put half a million up without so much as a phone call. It makes it hard to feel sorry for them.”
Janah, “So the lawyer has her call them back.”
Dr. Epstein, “Yes. She called the number Snake gave her; they went to her apartment to offer reassurances. The lawyer was there and said, in front of them, that she should go to the District Attorney’s Fraud division. They said to let them talk it over with their partner. Snake called twenty minutes later saying the partner would be over that night with the paperwork and her money. That’s the interval when the phone call to ‘Victor,’ Mikhail Kleshinko took place. Their second mistake was calling the woman back from the same pay phone they’d used to call Kleshinko. They thought they were being slick using a pay phone rather than the cell number they’d given the client. Kleshinko was angry, but that was blood under the bridge by then. They left and the next thing they knew, the woman and her lawyer were dead.”
Janah, “So the police were able to put them together with Kleshinko through phone records. Toad calls Kleshinko with the bad news. His solution is to kill Valerie Perl and her lawyer. It must have been late by the time Kleshinko showed up.”
Dr. Epstein, “Time of death was around midnight. Kleshinko was having dinner with a girlfriend, she became his alibi at first, then his downfall.”
“How did that happen?”
Dr. Epstein, “Kleshinko, aka Victor the overconfident psychopath, took his date home when he got the call, they drank champagne, hers drugged. While she was unconscious, he left, killed Perl and Haskell. He returned to her apartment and was there the next morning when she awoke. She was his alibi until, on closer questioning, she said she had slept like she was dead. They realized if she was that out of it he could have gone anywhere. Victor was so sure of his alibi, he’d kept the murder weapon, a small 22 automatic hidden in a crevice in the ceiling of the bedroom closet. So much for self assurance.”
Janah, “A psychopath is overconfident by definition. He rules the world and people in it are objects that serve him.”
James, “Yes, if there was such a creature as a paranoid psychopath, it would be a very dangerous animal indeed. Like the fictional Hannibal Lecter.”
Janah, “How did they finally get Kleshinko?”
Dr. Epstein, “The cops tracked down Snake from the woman’s phone records. The lawyer’s notes had details of two men, Snake gave up Toad on the spot. Not out of disloyalty, out of alibi. In their minds, they hadn’t done anything. They were in a restaurant with dates at the time of the murder. The cops got a break after checking back on phone records. That led them to the mail drop. Snake and Toad knew a phone number and the address of the mail drop, they had never met Kleshinko in person. Surveillance busted Kleshinko the next day. They had nothing but his presence at the drop and a phone number to tie him to the murder.
James, “There was no eyewitness evidence. Kleshinko was a voice on an anonymous cell phone, with a number that kept changing. They could only get the man at the mail drop. Then, when they had him, they had no proof he was anywhere near the scene of the crime, or that he had anything to do with an investment fund. There was nothing at the mail box that tied Kleshinko to anything.”
“Wait, was it his mail box?”
Dr. Epstein, “It depends on who you mean by his, Daphne. It was Mikhail Kleshinko’s, it had no name of Victor attached to it. A guy named Kleshinko is checking his mail. Two other guys say that’s where they sent documents to Victor, a man they had never met. There was no hard evidence then that Victor was Mikhail Kleshinko.”
“But they arrested him anyway, based on the fact that there had been a murder and that Snake and Toad, slimy though they were, had given them this mailing address.”
Dr. Epstein, “Yes, and out of that that series of interviews, came the Kleshinko video. Janah was able to provide observations which gave the police reason to question him further. The detective said once he had Kleshinko tagged as a lair, he started wondering about the girlfriend’s story that Kleshinko was at her place all night. Their suspicions were further confirmed by the copies of Rangetree partners documents at the lawyer’s office and his notes that the references didn’t check out.”
Mrs. Epstein, “I’d love to be able to tell all my snooty friends about it. How Janah cut to the heart of the liar just by looking at him. You could make a fortune just telling women whether their men were trustworthy or not.”
“Very good Mrs. E. Except I brought it up to Janah once, and she explained that we would only wind up with more enemies than friends.”
The room is quiet for a minute, the two doctors and Mrs. Epstein digesting my comment.
Mrs. Epstein, “Of course, I see it now. People say they want the truth, but do they really?”
James, “And they can’t take the dissonance between what they think about the boyfriend and what Janah says he’s really like. It would mean their judgment was poor.”
Mrs. Epstein, “So they have to blame the messenger instead. She’s entirely correct. Like the movie, often we can’t handle the truth. Enough mystery, lunch is served, let’s relax and enjoy.”
Janah, “Yum, that’s a truth I can handle.”
Chapter Forty Six I
Competition is not just overrated,
it’s detrimental to a sane existence.
At school, Janah and I arrive together and leave together, never apart except for my classes. I am friendly with the Reform School Girls, or the RSGs as they had become, sharing stories and giggling with heads together in the halls. Within a month, RSGs were often at the condo. On weekends, varying upperclassmen stayed over Saturday nights, sleeping spread around between the Svensson’s and our place The homes were full of strange, scathingly brilliant girls gathered around, sharing stories, watching movies and eating like a swarm of locusts.
By the holidays, things start to happen that aren’t supposed to happen. Parents of the older RSGs are delighted to find that their daughters were, unlike some of their friend’s kids, neither moody nor aloof. Chapmans girls are brilliant and eccentric, but not always free of personal adolescent angst and hormonality. The parents of RSG daughters found their girls talking openly with them, sitting down to dinner, engaging everyone in conversation. Parents got hugs, thank yous and kisses they thought were long gone in the typical teen attempt to break away.
There is no mystery, the girls saw the interactions among our extended family, no secrets, no judgments, no competition. They took those scenes with them to their own homes. For some it is harder, the family being more than normally dysfunctional. Those girls get special attention from Janah, then, taking Janah’s cue, the rest of the RSGs. While they can’t make every family all Brady Bunch, they encourage, they empathize, they listen.
I took a different approach from normal martial arts classes, constantly reinforcing that martial arts training, even sparring, is to help each girl develop mentally and physically, not to compete. No points are awarded during sparring matches, no hand raised in victory. The point of sparring is to let each girl find her strengths and weaknesses, not to win anything, even recognition. Every match is cheered and every participant applauded.
I am watching the girls spar with each other, I felt Janah reading me, “Your question is, Chapmans is the most expensive prep school in Manhattan, which means it’s up there with the most expensive schools in the world. You are wondering if are we putting down their parents for the very thing that allows them to go to Chapmans?”
“Yeah. They get to go to school here, most of them, because their parents are flipping rich. I suppose many of them earned it like Sis earned it, by providing a legitimate service at a fair price. Some of them did it the cutthroat way. If the competition thing doesn’t get done, is there a Chapmans for girls to go to at all?”
Janah, “Let’s look at it. Your mom can afford it because she busted her tail, did excellent work, never treated other consultants as competitors. You’ve told me how often her friends in the business have sent her work, and she’s reciprocated.”
“Isn’t she an exception?”
“Ah, that’s the point. Does she have to be? Companies are beginning to find out that honest cooperation turns out to make money with less headache than back door deals and cheating. Not just because of legal problems, because nobody wants to do business with you if they have to have a gaggle of lawyers parse every line of a contract, then sue to enforce it. Managers are finding that being a pain in the butt causes customers and suppliers to walk away.”
“So the idea is to show cooperation and sharing on a very small scale, like Chapmans, and maybe some parents will see there is a different way to get things done without all the head bashing?”
“Yes. When Lacy explains her exceptional students, she admits she takes girls who have superior skills. She takes no credit for what they already possess. She also points out that wealth doesn’t smooth over the problems that any girl has, rich or poor. Not every rich girl has a pristine or even supportive family life. Then she highlights the tiny classes of 15 students--the exception is your class, which is different. In your class more is better up to a point. The school is a living breathing example of how fostering cooperation over competition works for everyone.”
“So the basic concept can work, regardless of the net worth of parents?”
“The concept will work even better in less economically advantaged schools or communities. Real cooperation can make up for some of the poverty, by the strength of everyone helping. Chapmans girls don’t have to be cooperative, they’re going to have money no matter what. They cooperate because it’s better. Creating goods and selling services does not have to be cutthroat competitive. Unfortunately, people aren’t taught that. They bring in their assumptions about the glories of competition.”
Chapter Forty Seven I
Talk low, talk slow, and don't talk too much.
Janah and I are walking down the hall between classes, a Korean girl named Joan Wayne Moon ambled up to us. Joan is completely absorbed by the old west. She dresses like a cowboy, a cowgirl I suppose, boots, silver belt buckle, chaps, or jean skirts with ruffles, brocade shirts and vests. She is also fascinated with death. Not killing….why things died, how they died. She is going to be a forensic specialist, and she is going to be a very good and a very strange one.
“Nice snakes Joan Wayne,” I commented on the snakeskin boots that came up to her knees. She has on a skirt that almost hits her thighs, the ruffled border added two inches, and thigh high socks that almost make it to the ruffle. Joan Wayne puts her hands on her hips, like she’s heading for a showdown.
“Just got ‘em. Gotta break in snakes slow, like a good horse or a bad man.”
Janah giggles, Joan is thirteen with three older sisters. Janah doubted she knew where on a man the power cord was located and only a vague idea of where to plug it in, “How’s life on the prairies of Central Park West?”
Joan lives in a twelve million dollar condo and likely has never seen an actual tumbleweed, “Life’s hard, it’s harder when you’re stupid.”
Janah knows she isn’t referring to anyone in particular. Joan Wayne loves quoting her namesake. In Joan Wayne’s world, the quote is the important thing, relevance to the conversation purely accidental.
Janah, “Can’t argue with that.”
“Gotta go, little ladies,” Joan Wayne steps up to me, she looks up, way up. Joan Wayne is about four nine, maybe four eleven with the boots, “Your deputy’s a long drink of water ain’t she?”
Janah, “You’re true on that, Joan Wayne.”
Joan Wayne keeps her eyes on me, “If you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
She tips her hat to Janah, “Ma’am,” and saunters on down to the saloon…I mean the lab.
“A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.”
Janah, “When did you start watching John Wayne movies?”
“Since before I was breathing air. Sis was watching True Grit when she went into labor. Think I should get me some snakes, little filly?”
Chapter Forty Eight I
You do not need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Do not even listen, simply wait.
Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked.
It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
I am spinning nunchucks in our room, two wooden sticks held together by a length of chain, I can make them sing when I get a roll going. I also got a zillion bruised knuckles and clock myself on the head every so often. I practice breaking, getting Janah or Chris to hold boards to destroy. It calls for focused concentration, and very quick hands and feet, if I do say so myself. I have uniquely quick hands and feet, gift of the universe, which I honed daily to express my gratitude.
Janah is in a headstand, I have the nunchucks whizzing when a chat window popped up on the computer screen. I glance at it and hit myself on the head with the stick, ouch!
I’m rubbing my head, “It’s from dad, he says when we have a moment, he’d like to ask some questions about your meditations.”
Janah comes right side up, goes to the computer and taps out a reply, “Be there shortly.”
A few minutes later we are seated in his office, James wastes no time, “First, I’m curious about what Daphne sees in her mind when Janah meditates?”
“Which kind of meditation?”
James scrunches his lips, “Curve ball. Can you break them down for me?”
“When Janah sits cross legged on her mat and gets quiet, it’s entering what she calls no mind. If I go in there, in her mind, she’s got some flashes of random thought. What happened at school, food, a conversation she had. Then things go away. After a few minutes, there’s nothing.”
“Clear as the blue sky.”
James, “How long does this go on?”
“Unpredictable. At some point thought reenters on its own. Since she’s done it for so long, it’s usually no sooner than a half hour, she’s occasionally gone all night.”
James, “All night? As in eight hours?”
“The record is six.”
James, “Six hours with no thought, at least no conscious thought?’
I look at Janah, then turn to James, “Yes. I fell asleep, so I wanted to verify.”
James, “And there is another meditation?”
“There’s mind body meditation. I do that one with her most of the time, but I’m not where she is with it. Janah can control some of her involuntary systems. She can slow her heart rate, raise or lower her body temperature, control her breath.”
James, “What happens, what do you mean exactly?”
“I’ve felt her take four breaths a minute, then two. She can make herself sweat just sitting there, or her fingers go icy cold, not cool, cold. I’ve monitored her pulse at fifteen.’
James, “Fifteen what?”
“Fifteen beats a minute.”
James, “I didn’t know that was possible.”
“The lowest recorded rate we could find was a cyclist who had a resting heart rate of twenty eight beats a minute.”
He looks to Janah, ‘Are you dizzy, short of breath?’
Janah shakes her head no.
“She calls this Qi meditation. Qi is Chinese for life force. When she does this meditation, it’s concentration, intensely focused. Nothing like no mind meditation.”
James, “So two different types of meditation.”
James grimaces, “Maybe I should quit jumping to conclusions.”
I grin, “Three is it. The last is what she calls real meditation. Janah meditates almost all the time. She says meditation is to be fully present, not to color now with past memories or speculation about the future. She’s always right here right now. She doesn’t quite grasp why other people think it so unusual. She takes in everything as if it were completely new. If someone had said something nasty to her yesterday, it doesn’t color her view of that person today. It’s not in her mind. I know it’s not because I can see in there. If she reads me, she might remember it from me, but it’s not in her brain.”
James, “How does she not remember it?”
Janah, “Why would I want to remember it?"
James, "I didn't think it was a choice. So, how do you not remember?"
Janah, "By not sticking a label on it in the first place. If I don't call something, something, then there's nothing to remember. Can we feel anger if we don't label it anger, or rejection, or injustice first?"
James pauses, then, "I'll get back to you on that."
Janah continues, "However, there are things that it would be convenient to forget, except I don’t want to. Like the incident with the young boy.”
James blinks, then stares into the distance.
We turn our heads to each other, a few seconds pass, we turn back to James.
“Then there’s the bliss, which is not meditation exactly.”
James waits. We had decided to tell him more. He knew no matter how much we reveal, there is always something left. He wondered why. He felt an answer forming, but it is like seeing something through an opaque glass. It is there but not well structured enough to break through.
The feeling left, the answer sank back into the unconscious. He felt the twinge of ‘almost had it’ frustration.
He asks, “The bliss? Something besides her everyday experience.”
“Yes. It’s a state of ecstasy, pure joy.”
“What brings it on? Is it something she does?”
“It comes to her, she doesn’t go to it. Sometimes it comes for a few minutes, sometimes hours. It’s not related to any formal meditation.”
“This started after you were together.”
Janah acknowledges her father’s insight, “Yes. The day Daphne and I met for real. That night, I woke up in the middle of the night to a rush of energy, like lightening in my head. It physically hurt for an hour, more perhaps. Then pure joy washed through my mind, through my body. I felt like I was floating. Then it was gone. I giggled so much Daphne woke up.”
“How do you feel when it goes?”
“It’s pointless to anticipate its coming or to regret its going,” Janah replies softly.
James asks me, “Are you in this state when she is?”
“I’ve tasted it, but no, my job is to look out for her.”
James reflects on my comment. He noticed I didn’t have any tone of resignation or regret. I don’t see it as missing out. Janah leans onto my shoulder and takes my hand.
We sit quietly for a long while.
James, “If you had to call it something besides the bliss, what would you call it?”
Janah, “I started to say love, but I mistrust that word. I never quite know what it means. I would say harmony, being in synch with….everything.”
The quiet descends again. Several minutes pass in silence.
James asked, “It doesn’t trouble you, that this comes only to her?”
“Not in the least. We are two and one. We’ve been blessed with things beyond rational comprehension. What happens to Janah is a beautiful mystery beyond even that. Wanting it for myself would diminish it, turn it into a thing to possess.”
James nods slowly, ‘How elegantly she expresses it,’ he thinks. ‘How these two young women had come to this he could not explain. Yet, here they are.’