Chapter Forty Nine IV
Palumbo, “You have performed nothing short of a miracle. I am an old, dying man. My family is young and vibrant. The grandchildren will be kept as far away from the life as I can insure. One of my kids, well, let’s say she’s father’s child. But they are not murderers of innocents.”
Janah, “You’re a product of the life you grew up in and understood. I’m no friend of the rich who take advantage, nor of politicians who get bought and sold like cattle. I come from a reasonably wealthy family. I am not a friend of nations or states or their leaders, not even our own, not in any political way. Still, they are human, and reflect only the circumstances they know, as do you.”
Palumbo gets a half smile, “You aren’t a soft touch, but at least you understand. And I am obviously in your debt, and I pay my debts. What can I do?”
Janah, “You’ve done most of it. Keep easy wealth away from your children and grandchildren. You have enough that they may be comfortable, the kids can go to good schools or learn valuable trades. Let them work for their bread.”
Palumbo, “That’s done, but what can I do for you?”
Janah, “We have more than we need. However, we are building a school for poor children, but who possess natural intellect and capacity. It will not be a school to park kids because they are poor, they will meet high standards or be moved along elsewhere. We will give them, for no charge, room, board and a superior education. They are bored in traditional schools, unchallenged, get into trouble or just lose interest. We have methods to change that, to re-engage them in learning and inquiry. If you care to donate to the project, here is the address and bank account numbers of the Sylk Trust. Transfer funds, or write a check in any amount you think appropriate.”
Palumbo, “You’re a white angel protected by two angels of death. Those girls are the most dispassionate, observant human beings I’ve ever seen. And I’ve had a lot of tough guys around me in my time. You must feel safe.”
Janah, “I am completely safe, there is nothing to fear, with or without my companions. I just like their company."
Palumbo laughs, coughs, ‘What company? They never say nothin.”
Janah smiles, “My idea of perfect company.”
Palumbo grins, coughs again, “I need to laugh more. Maybe now, because of you, I’ll be able to.”
“I hope you will come and visit our school. It will lengthen your life to see the good you’ve done.”
“I need to transfer some money. Your Trust will get my gift in a couple of days.”
Janah shakes the old man’s hand, we leave him alone at his desk. The butler went in with a glass of wine and a plate of grapes, a few crackers, and cheese.
I hear Palumbo, “Thanks to those women, I can enjoy lunch again. Turn on the television, there’ll be a ballgame on one of the stations. I’ll watch baseball in peace, then I’ll finally be able to take a nap for the first time since I can remember.”
There had been two deaths, and several serious injuries, none of them to our people. Janah regrets the ignorance that causes such pain, but there it is. She decides to focus on fun, then begin work on her schools.
Janah, “I’m in the mood for time alone with a couple of bad girls I know. I’d like champagne and snacks, then, if anyone is willing, I’d be happy to give them as much sex as they require, as long as they require.”
“I’ll break open the bottle, I’ll probably need quite a bit of strong black tea. It sounds like a long afternoon, perhaps even into the evening.”
Janah, “You’ve read our mind.”
“Nishiko, Janah’s feeling….”
Nikko, “I can see what Janah is feeling, she’s got that steamy look. Master J and I will share champagne while you prepare a light lunch. I’ll have her all primed by the time it’s ready. Nikko will need to rest this evening. I have to meet Sis in the morning to work on finances and with Lacy on the new school site.”
Janah, “It’s mid-afternoon, we’ll all be passed out before ten.”
Nikko, “What if Mrs. Epstein calls?”
“She’ll only get the voice mail. Are the toys charged up?”
“And there are backups. After lunch, you can bubble in the tub, then we’ll start draining batteries.”
Janah giggles, “I wonder how good girls use their time off?’
Nikko, “Text lies to each other about how bad they are.”
Two hours later, we’re all over the apartment, mechanical devices hum, glasses are refreshed, brushes, candles for a continuous supply of fresh warm wax, oil and ice strategically placed around the living room bed and bathrooms. No body part goes unkissed, unlicked, unprobed, unfondled or unstroked, all to the most deliciously languid tempo. It is an afternoon and evening of slow sensual erotic….oooohhhh.
Chapter Fifty IV
Family-hood of the Traveling Scams
Motto: “Rip-off early and often.”
Mrs. Epstein calls, Janah is at the temple, “The Abbess have time for a bit of outside activity?”
Janah, “You wouldn’t have called if it wasn’t important. Besides, I have such an efficient staff, I’m basically Hue’s assistant in the garden. And right now, I’m up to my ears in dirt.”
“Call me when you have a chance. Or, even better, come by.”
Janah, “What’s for dinner?’
Mrs. Epstein laughed, “Some things never change. How many should I prepare for?’
“The girls and me. We’ve left Chan to pursue his training and be with his family while the schools get underway. Friday is still Kendo in the morning. I get to watch practice, then Daphne does a tea ceremony in the afternoon at the Murakami’s. I can’t decide if my girls look hotter in their street wear, kimonos, or their silk doboks. I’m continuing my studies, I may have an opinion in another fifty years.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Bullshit. You like them best in nothing.”
Janah laughs, “I presumed that was obvious.”
“If you get here by seven, I’ll have some appetizers, then a bite to eat. Somewhere in there, we’ll get around to the problem.”
Janah, “See you soon,” clicks off and asks me, “Did you hear?”
“We’re supposed to be at Mrs. E’s at seven. I’ll call Nishiko. She’s still at her office.”
Nikko comes at quarter to four, we leave for the apartment to clean up and relax, watch one of my obscure martial arts movies until six. Actually, we sort of watch and nap. Lacy came by to say hi and bye, going to have dinner with the parents at Babbo on Waverly Place, across from the Washington Square Hotel.
We hit the Epstein condo at seven oh one.
‘Punctual as usual,” Mrs. Epstein hands Janah a glass of Gosset, then one for Nikko. I get Coke Zero and a squish of lemon.
Janah, “Hungry as usual. Smells delightful in here.”
Mrs. Epstein, “When in doubt, call Zabar’s, even when not in doubt.”
“Sis uses them, high quality.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Can you guess what’s on the menu?”
I sniff, “Chicken soup, health salad, rotisserie Cornish Hen, crunchy vegetables and Rugelach for dessert.”
Dr. Epstein, “How in hell does she do that? She got every item right, and she just walked in the door.”
Janah, “She rattled off the menu coming up the elevator, although it took her coming in to sniff out the health salad. I think the crunchy vegetables threw her off a tad.”
Dr. Epstein looks at Nikko, “Tell me she’s pulling my leg.”
Nikko slowly shakes a ‘no,’ “She does it all the time, we walk into Java Joe’s, she knows which coffee they just made. All I can tell is the place reeks of coffee.”
“Nikko doesn’t drink much coffee, but don’t try and yank her chain about what kind of tea is served. Coffee she drinks for the caffeine, tea she prefers for the taste. Go figure. The deadliest person I know writes poetry and knows the subtleties of a hundred different teas.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Let’s enjoy dinner before I have to tell you an ugly story.”
A half hour later, we’re nibbling Rugelach, they finish up a bottle of wine.
“I’ll clean up and listen via Janah, you guys gather in Dr. E’s office and go over details. Then little girls can waddle off to the apartment and finish digesting, the food and the story,”
Nikko, Janah and Mrs. Epstein settle in the chairs in Dr. Epstein’s office. Dr. Epstein wheels his chair around to their side of the desk, they sit in a small circle.
Mrs. Epstein, “In a land not so far away, Kansas, and, no, you’re not going to Wonderland, there is a group of what people confuse as gypsies. They’ve come to be known as ‘Travelers,’ Irish Travelers. Essentially a gang of rip off artists. The women tell fortunes, the men drive around in a truck full of tools and offer to make repairs to people’s homes, at what appears to be a very reasonable price.”
Janah, “People still fall for that? It’s near the oldest fraud in the books.”
Mrs. Epstein, “They have a slightly different version. They carry Bibles, show elderly people hoked up photos of before and after jobs they’ve done, all with letters testifying to the quality of the work, even phone numbers to call. Guess who answers?”
Nikko, “Their women, of course.”
Janah, “The downside of being able to select any area code you want for a mobile phone. And the police have a hard time finding them, thus ‘Travelers.’
“Exactly again. However, that’s hardly the worst of it.”
I mental in my Daffy Duck voice, “The plot tttthickenths!!”
Mrs. Epstein, “What’s so….ah, never mind, your other is mentaling humor.”
Janah, “She’s doing her Daffy Duck imitation.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Which is?’
Nikko repeats Daphne’s line, the Epsteins laugh, Dr. Epstein says, “I remember that. It was long before Daphne’s time.”
Nikko, “Cartoon channel. She walks around the apartment like Elmer Fudd singing ‘kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, then looks at me and says in her Bugs Bunny voice, ‘kill…da…wabbit?’”
Janah, “And repeats all the Fractured Fairy Tales from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Once she had to give a paper at Chapman’s, so she stood up in front of the class and told one of the stories.”
Mrs. Epstein, “When does he find the time?”
Janah, “She watches the cartoons while we do nails. If it’s not that, it’s some really horrendous action movie. Nikko loves it, but she’ll never admit it.”
Mrs. Epstein looked at Nikko, “Well?”
“Daphne has her way of dealing with things. She makes me laugh. It’s so idiotic it’s hilarious. I can’t help myself, so I’m admitting it after all.”
Dr. Epstein, “You’re among friends, we won’t breathe a word.”
Janah, “Back to business. What’s worse?”
Mrs. Epstein, “As you no doubt know, Travelers come in different varieties. The biggest group in the US are the Irish Travelers. They live in southern states, various enclaves and trailer parks, then spread out like viruses across the country over the summer. They do half-ass roof repairs, fix cracked driveways with flimsy material, sell crap tools to the unsuspecting, and rob people blind while they have access to the house.”
Janah, “I understand they also use fake social security cards, driver’s licenses and plates. If they’re arrested, there’s no connection to the family back home. There’s a lot of material on the web. I read a few pieces a couple of years ago, never thought about them as refocusing targets.”
Dr. Epstein, “They rely on their mark’s embarrassment at being duped, so they frequently get away without so much as a complaint.”
Janah, “But you have a group that’s something more than common rip off artists. If we went after every joker who sold snake oil, we’d have to start with stockbrokers. Just that would take forever.”
Mrs. Epstein groans, “Christ, don’t remind me. I used to be part of that. We ripped off corporations by talking them into insane deals by stroking the CEO’s ego.”
Janah, “Bad girl. You’ve reformed at least.”
“When I met Bernie. I worked for a few years, but it gnawed at me, I kept telling him stories. He never once made a judgment. His silent listening made me listen…to myself. I finally came to my senses and walked away. I’d made a good deal of money, not like in today’s derivatives theft, but a goodly sum. We, and some others, are trying to give back in a slightly different way. Directly to people in serious need, not just starting a charity that has grand plans. The Society works primarily with individuals, and we remain anonymous, there’s no tax deduction in it for us.”
Mrs. Epstein continues, “To the matter at hand. Our band of scammers isn’t the typical Traveler. They prey on the religious, prey and pray. That’s okay, the religious already live in a delusion. It’s hard to care about people who believe God will look after them, then give their money to someone they don’t know for services that aren’t rendered. Our guys, though, are also into abducting children. They’re a relatively small group, and smart enough to know there are consequences to inbreeding. They marry cousins, but the eligible partner pool thins quickly.”
“So they need a steady flow of wives to prevent polluting the gene pool.”
Janah sighs, “There’s never an end to this, is there?”
There is only one obvious answer, Janah’s question is rhetorical.
“The Society knows where these jokers are, Kansas you said.”
Dr. Epstein, “Well, they’re in Kansas at the moment. They could be in Missouri, or Texas or Oklahoma overnight. Doesn’t matter, we’re tracking them. There are details on the website, photos, more will be added as we collect information. We’re having trouble deciding which of the wives were abducted as children, they’ve become part of the group, they had no choice. Some of these kids are stolen as infants, they don’t know any other parents. No doubt some of the wives believe they have always been part of this clan. Then they’ve had children by the men, so the DNA will show legitimate parents. Some of the children won’t match up with any of the DNA of the clan, that will make them easier to identify.”
Janah, “Sounds like the mission is to chop off the head, make sure the younger men are intimidated into finding something else to do with their time, then get the kids under, oh say, twelve, DNA tested versus the DNA of the older ones. Quite an undertaking.”
Mrs. Epstein, “If it was easy, we’d let the FBI do it.”
“Okay. Give me a couple of days to study their movements, I trust you have photos of the entire clan. I doubt they do much banking, but they must use cell phones. How many people in the pot?’
Dr. Epstein, “There are twelve men above age sixteen, all with wives, although not likely legal marriages, another twenty children. Most twelve or under, three infants.”
Janah, “Sheesh. That'll take time to sort out. I’ll call with a plan day after tomorrow. We’ll leave on Friday, to wherever they are then.”
I join them, Mrs. Epstein calls down to the doorman and asks him to get a cab, we’re in the apartment fifteen minutes later.
We diddle around, read, half watch a flick, go to bed. Nikko and I wrap ourselves around Janah and sleep until the sun rises.
I climb out of bed, leave Nikko curled around Janah for another hour, make tea and fresh coffee when I hear them stirring in the shower.
Lacy calls, “Is there coffee? I need a quick shot, then get down to the school. I stayed up watching a movie and now I’m late.”
Lacy pops in, drinks a cup and takes one with her. I hand her a fresh baked almond poppy seed muffin on the way out.
Lacy, “You are such an angel, angel. Janah, you around after school? I need a death by yoga workout, but if you’re busy, just say so.”
Janah, “No, I’ll need one by then too. We have to travel, I’m spending the day in the meditation loft figuring out my yet unplanned brilliant plan.”
“I’ll clean up and organize our travel gear. Nikko and I can spend the day with a workout light and we have RSGs to teach at four. In between I think we’ll go for a walk, maybe shopping. You know the rules.”
Janah, “I’m not leaving the apartment. If something unexpected comes up, I’ll call Chan or C-mom. You and Nishiko skip workouts and go out and be girls. Have lunch someplace, do some damage to the credit cards. Bring me a treat, some kind of mystery body lotion or something. Sis will take care of the RSGs. Today is chill day for you two. I need to think, I’ll check in every couple of hours.”
We leave at ten, looking identically hot, form fitting silk pants, ankle boots, I opt for a fuchsia pullover, Nikko her favored ivory cream.
“God, you two look scrumptious. Good thing you’re leaving, or I’d just make you take everything off and nothing would get done.”
Nikko, “We’d get done. If you didn’t have work to do, I’d love to get done. Daphne did me last night, but that was then, this is now. Best to get busy before we get distracted.”
Chapter Fifty One IV
These six things doth the Lord hate:
yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations,
feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies,
and he that soweth discord among brethren.
Proverbs 6:16-19, King James Version
Janah settles in the meditation loft. She has the picture in her mind. The men setting up camp, leave the women and children, go off for a month or more, doing scam jobs, petty theft. The trailers are parked, trucks that pull them used to drive to other places, setting up marks. The men attend church, Wednesday night prayer meetings, Bible classes. Welcomed by the gullible. People see Bibles, the men quote scripture, never impolite or argumentative. It doesn’t matter what brand of religion, they play along with the flavor of the day.
Prime targets, widows, the elderly, living on the pittance of Social Security. The Travelers never so much as suggest any impropriety with the younger women, treat the old ones with respect. Repair jobs, sell knock off tools at outrageous prices, sort of a hardware Amway. Fix easy stuff, collect deposits on bigger jobs. Once they’d collected enough, for work always to begin in a few days, or gotten a bit of jewelry or silverware out of a house, gone.
They move a few hundred miles down the road and start up again. Very occasionally, and only when they hadn’t tried to mingle in the community, a child disappears. Usually very young, infants to toddlers, children too young to grasp what’s happening, that either hadn’t or barely begun to talk.
Time does what time does. Eventually, the old life is just a dream, their new life is with the Travelers. Infants are easiest, no memory of mommy or daddy, but they take more care and expense. By the time the abducted kids are adolescents, the only life they know is Traveler. The girls learn the scams of fortune telling, shoplifting, theft from homes they visit for personal ‘readings.’
The boys learn the gift of easy conviviality, Bible verses, how to speak the language of the religious. Then the skills of fraud, junk tools off the back of a truck, how to talk roof repair, cracked driveways, fireplace maintenance.
Janah’s lost in the Traveler world, envisioning their life, imagining how we approach and refocus.
Nikko and I return at four. We had lunch at Oesteria Morini, best place in Soho, my entrée, Creste, shrimp & seppie ragú, Nikko went for Gramigna, macaroni, pork sausage, Swiss chard. Both excellent.
We bought body lotion for Janah, Thymes Filigree at New York Chemists, if there’s a heaven, it smells like Filigree.
Janah, “What did you get for yourselves? I was occupied with our problem and wasn’t in Daphne’s head.”
Nikko pulls out a Boker Infinity Ceramic Pocket Knife, with a Zytel Handle.
I read the package, “Titanium handle houses the ultra sharp three and a quarter inch ceramic blade. Ceramic blades hold an edge like a champ and have a sleek look to them.”
“Very fashionable, anything else?”
Nikko, “Oh, yes, wonderful. A seven and three quarter inch AKC Leverletto switchblade with lockout, in full black of course. A lockout will lock the spring down, making the knife a manual Leverletto locking knife or by backing off the lockout set screw releases the spring, and it becomes fully automatic.”
She clicks the button, zwipp!, the blade springs out, “Cool, huh?”
Janah, “Downright cold.”
And a favorite of mine, “A crispy new Covert Automatic Serrated folding tactical knife. It has an Applegate-Fairbairn S30V steel blade with a new spring-loaded auto release that deploys the blade with the push of a button.”
Click, second zwipp! The blade flips out. A nasty looking, beautifully made, extremely efficient cutting tool.
Janah, “This was a lazy afternoon of shopping?”
“Nikko is most relaxed in hardware stores and military goods outlets. The switchblade was a special order, for specialty customers.”
“I see you hit Geminola, the skirt is delightful, and this frock coat must have cost a fortune.”
Janah, “I already know, I saw it last week, even tried it on, but didn’t get it.”
“But you wanted to, since I knew that, I asked the clerk to put it away and I’d pick it up in a day or so. Today was the or so.”
Janah kisses me, “Thank you,” then kisses Nikko, “thank you both for being so thoughtful.”
“I’m feeling you’ve hit on a partial solution.”
“Yeah, Chan and crew are coming for diner, I’ll give you guys the outline over tea. Oh, you don’t have to cook. Ning’s bringing vegetarian spring rolls and hot and sour soup. Chan’s going out to the bakery for fresh bread and something for dessert.”
Nikko, “I assume you have a plan.”
We sit on the mat with big cups of green tea.
Janah begins, “There are a dozen guys traveling. Two groups of six. Right now, they’re a few hundred miles apart and around thirteen hundred miles from home in North Carolina. The women stay in the trailers, are divided up between Wichita and Tulsa, less than two hundred miles, a three hour drive. The men are working small towns a hundred or more miles from the women and children. They don’t want any association, no connection to themselves and the women doing their thing.”
Nikko, “Obviously a form of self protection. One group gets caught up with the law, the others don’t get caught in the net.”
Janah, “That’s the idea. And we don’t want to bring a dozen monks to clean everyone up all at one time, although that was my first idea.”
Nikko, “What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s okay for the men. The women, what do we do? Beat them up for shoplifting and telling fortunes to suckers?”
Nikko, “Works for me.”
“Geez, me too Janah. These people have stolen children and used them to continue the fraud and theft business. It’s a whole clan of sociopaths.”
Janah, “I know that. It’s not the kids fault that they were stolen.”
“For the older ones, though, they’re already polluted by the life. They grew up with these people. In a way, it seems cruel to clue them in that their ‘parents’ are not their parents. And, they have been trained to be clannish and suspicious at the least.”
Nikko, “Okay, so what do we do?”
Janah, “The abducted ones will have to face the fact that they were lied to and brainwashed to be what they are. That they will have to change their lifestyle and move on. The youngest are easiest. We place the abducted back with their parents, place the natural born children with new families. That’s the sloppy part. Most of these kids don’t know any other parents. Further complications arise with children of abducted children who are now adults. We have to demonstrate that the environment under which they were brought up is a complete fraud, and that the Travelers are unfit, first to raise children, and second, to be a part of society. That is, they go to jail.”
“Aren’t some of the kids, the more grown up ones, just as sociopathic as mommy and daddy by now?”
Janah, “Most likely. They don’t see any harm in scamming gullible people. Obviously, the adults like it, they’re getting off on the dopamine rush of the con. The kids are no doubt rewarded when they pull off a particularly successful shoplifting. Those rewards serve as reinforcement to do it again, and even more brazenly.”
Nikko, “What happens first?”
Janah, “Refocus the men. Completely dismantle their family structure, their lifestyle, destabilize their culture and environment.”
“Sounds like the CIA.”
Janah giggles, “Actually, it does when I spell it out that way. This, however isn’t to set up a dictator we like in place of another dictator who doesn’t march to our government’s tune.”
“And we’re going to hand the FBI their case and at the same time take away the children. They won’t have any choice but to arrest, the DA no choice but to prosecute, both the men and the women.”
Nikko, “I imagine Surveillance is going to get everyone on tape. Then make a national story out of it.”
Janah, “Yes. We edit out the boring stuff, send the story to the New York Times through Society contacts.”
“When do we leave?”
Janah, “ I want two weeks of Surveillance on all four groups, more if we need it. We’ll have video and photos of the men in churches, going to jobs, talking to customer-victims and the scam. Their vehicles will be GPS tracked. Everything they say recorded along with the movements of the women and children.”
Nikko, “Chan going?”
Janah, “Yes. There’s six men in each group, the point is to get scam artists out of business, not for you and Nikko to demonstrate invincibility.”
Chapter Fifty Two IV
Ladies and gentlemen please
Would you bring your attention to me?
For a feast for your eyes to see
An explosion of catastrophe
Saliva, Ladies and Gentlemen
Three weeks later, in a hotel room in Wichita Kansas, Janah is surfing though Surveillance videos, photos and audio conversations, including the very occasional phone call. While the men work their end of the road, the women work the other. Phones are traceable and can be tapped, the group doesn’t much use them. When they do, it’s quick, things okay? a yes, hang up. No conversation about the weather, or how little Anastasia is doing in school. Anastasia isn't in regular school, she’s in shoplifting class.
Got to admit, as thieves and con artists go, they have their act together. They never try for the big score, they never physically abuse anyone. Apart from taking young children, the crime that brought them to our attention, their scams are financial. Janah, “We’ll start with the men. They generally work two per job. Surveillance tracked work sites, we’ll start with the area outside Wichita, deal with the three pairs there, move on to the others working Oklahoma. the women will think little of not hearing from their ‘menfolk,’ as they say."
“What kind of cracker crap is that? Menfolk? Geez.”
Janah, “It is rather hill country nineteen fifty, but don’t be mislead about their toughness. They live by labor, even if it’s a rip-off, and they grow up fighting. If they’re over fifteen, they’ve been busted up more than once. They don't fear much.”
We catch up to the first pair at eight in the morning. Caught up to is the wrong way around it. We were waiting down the block from the jobsite at six thirty. Watched while two men appeared and began unloading their truck. As they begin to organize the work, this job involved a roof repair, Janah walks to the front door and knocks. An older woman answers, Janah says a few words, and she’s in the house. I hear her conversation, Janah’s showing the lady a movie. How the same two men on her roof had ripped off prior customers and are in the process of scamming her.
The woman’s name is Gladys, “Why are you doing this? I see what these peckerwoods have been up to, you got proof. But why not just call the police?”
Janah nods, “Fair question. If they get arrested, who knows when you get your deposit money back? It will be evidence. They will post bail and leave town, move on to scam other people, that’s what they do. If you let me handle it, you get your money back today. And I’ll get your repairs done free.”
Gladys, “You gonna fix the roof free?”
Janah, “Yes, and by a reputable contractor with references.”
Gladys, “They come to my church, quote God’s Word, talk all smooth and friendly. Then they rob people who give them their trust. Deserve whatever they get. What’s your name, girl?”
Janah, “No name. In fifteen minutes, the men will be gone. Tomorrow, a local man, who knows people in the area, will come and take a look at your roof. Then, if it actually needs repair, with your permission, will fix it. A county inspector will be out to verify the work. It would be best if you didn’t mention scams, or us, or any prior roofers. The local man won’t ask, you needn’t confuse the issue. But what you tell your friends after we’re gone is up to you. Are you okay with this?’
Gladys, “Damn right. I’ll have to pray over my language, but it breaks my heart to see these people taking advantage. Right after they come to my church and break bread with us. Do what you do, you won’t get no interference from old Gladys. I’ll be glad to see the back of them.”
Janah smiles, hugs the old woman, “You’ve got a good heart Miss Gladys. Don’t let this spoil it. And don’t take anybody’s word just because they carry around a Bible and quote scripture. Anyone can do that.”
Gladys sighs, “No fool like an old fool. Thank you girl, God bless you child. How you going to get them gone?’
Janah, “I have competent help. Turn on your television, jack up the volume. Don’t call anyone for a half hour. Can you do that?”
Gladys, “Take care, Miss. I’m going to get me a coffee and watch TV.”
Janah leaves, one of the men is on the roof, the other just starting to take tools up the ladder.
I’m there, “Excuse me boys, but you’re services are no longer needed. Pack it up.”
The man on the roof says, “What’s going on?’
The man next to the ladder says, “Homeowner hired us, you got nae to do with it. Go on about your business afore you get inna business you canna handle.”
Nikko whacks him in the throat, sweeps his feet out from under him, I’m up the ladder so fast Roofie hasn’t processed what happened, I kick him off the roof and he lands with a thud on the grass. Fortunately for him, it’s a single story house.
Chan picks up the first man by the belt and tosses him in the bed of the truck. The second man is conscious, hasn’t quite gathered his wits, his arm is broken. Chan tosses him alongside his buddy.
Nikko retrieves two thousand dollars form one pocket, eight hundred from another. Janah brings it to Gladys.
Gladys, “But I give ‘em six hundred.”
“Keep it for your trouble, buy yourself something nice.”
“Bless you child, be careful now.”
I drive their truck, Chan in back with his new friends, Janah and Nikko follow in the van.
Half hour later we’re in the woods, twenty miles past nowhere. Nikko persuades them to strip, demonstrating the consequences of noncompliance with her fresh new knife on a near three inch thick branch, now disconnected from the tree. I use the branch with malice aforethought on Traveler One’s kneecap, then the wrist of Traveler Two. I break his nose just to make sure I have his complete attention.
“By the time you find civilization, if you do, your friends will be in much the same condition. We have enough video of you and your women’s scams to fill an entire issue of the newspaper and a 60 Minutes special. Which is exactly what will happen. We know who you are, who you really are, and where you live. Your free roaming days are done. We did repairs to your truck, took a cue from you, it won’t start. I’m taking your clothes, phones, ID and cash. You will be monitored for an indefinite period of time. Any violation of the rules,” I pinch my fingers together, “the teeny tiny slightest violation, will result in my insane friend showing up and dismembering your functioning body parts.”
Traveler One, “What is it you think you know about us? We be fair ‘n honest tradesmen.”
“You’re lying cocksuckers. My evidence has evidence.”
Traveler Two starts to reach for me, an almost silent swish, Nikko removes his thumb with her brand new ceramic flick knife.
He screams, Chan squeezes his neck, Traveler Two travels to the dirt, gratefully unconscious.
I look at Traveler One, “Got any cute ideas, snake?”
He shakes his head, he might be loyal, but he isn’t that loyal.
Chan puts them in the back of the disabled pickup, I wake the unconscious one with an ammonia cap, then Janah doses them with Librium. Basically woke him up to put him to sleep, just like the hospital. I wrap the stump with a pressure bandage, it’ll hurt like crazy, but he won’t bleed out. It will be six to eight hours before they’re functional, a day to reach civilization, naked with no ID.
We pile in the van and drive a hundred and twenty miles to Travelers Three and Four. It’s lunchtime, they’re sitting on the tailgate, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee from a thermos. The truck is parked next to a partially patched driveway. A cheap version of cold mix asphalt. There is no chance it will last the summer.
I walk up, Nikko and Chan invisible at the front of the truck. Three and Four see a weird girl in loose jeans, and a rayon pullover, a tattoo of a cross on her neck and a watch cap with hair braided down her back, sunglasses so dark, I am my own eclipse.
“Boys got a job going here I see?”
They two look at me, then at each other, Three says, “Lookin’ to get some work done lassie? Fix yur driveway, patch yur roof, all kindsa repair. Give you a good deal.”
“Not really. I am going to tell the homeowner you’re doing a shitty cold mix asphalt job that isn’t going to last two months, and whatever they paid you is way too much. Then you are going to give them their money back, plus a thousand dollars for their aggravation.”
Traveler Four, “Don’t know what ya think you be up to little lady, bitin’ off way more than ya can chew.”
“Then check it out big boy. Big Irish bastard like you, ought to be simple.”
I didn’t say who it would be simple for. Four is traveling towards his third mistake. His first was becoming a Traveler, his second was screwing with me, but, to give him credit, he doesn’t know it’s a mistake….yet.
“You won’t be talkin’ to nobody, them folks ain’t at home, over to the church house doin’ God’s work.”
That’s when he makes his third mistake, gets off the tailgate and takes a swing. I break his knee with my heel, he crumples to the pavement.
Three tries to get up, he can’t move. Chan has a hand covering his head, like he’s just resting it. Except to Three, it feels like his ass has been welded to the tailgate.
Nikko steps in front of him, flick knife drawn and ready.
She removes his left ear, it plops to the metal tailgate, the man tries to scream, but his voice won’t work. Chan’s thick palm blocks any sound.
Four is still on the ground, moaning, his pants covered in blood where I’d cracked open his knee.
I lean over to him, “Empty your pockets.”
He hesitates, for a second, I step on his knee, stuff begins flying out, including a roll of bills. I pick everything up and put it in a plastic shopping bag.
I look at Three, “Same drill, or do I get my friend to take a bit more off the top?”
Another roll of bills. Janah is going through the cab of the truck, another thousand dollars in the glove box, she takes it. There’s a cell phone, she removes the sim card and throws away the battery. She has all the phone numbers he’d ever called, and he has no way of redialing them.
“How much for the driveway job? Don’t jerk me around, I’m going to verify it with the owners.”
Three, “A grand.”
Janah counts the money, there is three thousand dollars in combined cash. She leaves two thousand in an envelope and shoves it through the mail slot.
Chan forces a couple of Librium down their throats, holds their noses and sticks a water bottle in the mouth. He squeezes, drink or choke. As they begin to doze, I drive their truck, the men snooze under a tarp in the back. My Travelers follow in the van.
We leave the men in the same condition as the first two, also twenty or so miles from empty. Janah leaves a bottle of water and a note that says ‘pain pills and antibiotics.’ More Librium and a dozen Cipro, back to sleep while the powerful antibiotic deals with infection.
Another two hour drive to Travelers Five and Six.
They are finishing up their workday, peddling knock off crap tools from a flea market outside Wichita. We follow them to their motel, a cheap nothing past the outskirts of town.
We sit in the van until the they go in the room.
“They live off stolen money and rent only one room in a thirty nine dollar a night cardboard motel?’
Nikko, “Maybe they’re gay.”
Janah laughs, “Gay men would never be caught dead in a place like this. Well, gay men who aren’t hiding their sexuality. Maybe our Travelers are in the closet. It isn’t likely, more likely they’re cheap.”
“They watch TV, drink beer and make jokes about the people they scammed. You can’t do that in two different rooms.”
Nikko, “How do you know they do any of that?’
“I can hear them, they’re doing it right now.”
Chan, “Can we get on with it? Chan getting hungry.”
Janah, “Me too. And we have a full day tomorrow.”
I knock hard, the door opens, the chain is on, at least until Chan smashes the door and Traveler Six sails across the room. Traveler Five stands, beer in hand, in his jeans with no shirt. There’s a football game on, football as in soccer.
I turn up the TV just as the announcer screams, “Goooaaaaal!!!!!!”
Traveler Five is apparently a fan, he turns his eyes to the TV out of habit, more than enough time for me to kick him in the balls, then front kick him completely off the floor. He lands on the bed, his beer tumbles onto the floor, he’d landed precisely on the pillow and looks like he’s taking a nap.
Nikko, “How’d you do that?”
“Dumb luck, all I wanted to do was get him out of the picture. I don’t like soccer, check that, I don’t like soccer fans. I can’t grasp why they get so worked up over a game so boring.”
To Nikko, that explains the entire stupid process of fans getting drunk and hostile over a child’s game. It’s also her one word explanation for what’s wrong with the world.
I laugh, Nikko doesn’t, but she likes that she’d made me smile.
Chan picks up Six and throws him on the bed. He’s groggy from his slam dance with the wall.
This drill is simple. We need to get away from the motel, it’s going to raise curiosity as soon as somebody sees a door inelegantly removed from its hinges. We follow the same procedure a third time, men in the back of their truck, followed by a black van. A full and frank discussion of their non-options, then two naked men, loaded with Librium and left by their disabled truck, way off road. No records, no money, no nothing but bottled water and ‘pain pills.’ Every pain pill they take puts them back to sleep. It’ll be a couple of days before they surface in civilization, disoriented and wearing nothing but the truck’s floor mats.