Chapter Fifty Three VI
My night to visit the eagle. I sit on the forest floor, the big bird settles on a nearby branch. Even in the darkness I see many of our friends peering in to the show. Janah and Nikko stay quietly off to one side.
“How are your eyes?”
“Excellent, I can see the smallest things, in full color, and colors I didn’t know were colors.”
“Then I’ll check, and see if we can tweak out improvements. Won’t take long, pain minimal.”
“Glad to hear it.”
My eyes flip open, pupils dilate, the forest is full of creatures, including the biggest bear I’d ever seen. He’s sitting off in the darkness, curious, motionless. The owl peers down on me from deeper in the woods. My head buzzes, more like a tingle than the grinding I’d experienced before, then eyes snap shut, there is a quick hot pain, dead center between my eyes that comes and goes like thunderbolts. A bright light explodes in my head. If this is minimal, I’m glad we don’t get to maximal.
“Done. You will see farther, with sharper edges. There’s nothing more, I have given you my vision.”
“I am most grateful. I have already used your gift in our work, it has saved lives and will save more in the future.”
“Taking them as well, no doubt.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Why afraid? Taking life does not concern me. A thing dies in its time. You are merely the tool of the inevitable. Do not concern yourself. I have followed your path, I know of your violence away from this place. Judgments are futile, it is what happens.”
“I understand. We are taught to preserve life, in our world it is a contradiction.”
“In your mind only. There is no contradiction in the supreme, all is as it should be. Regret nothing. It is your place, do your job well and think no more of it.”
“I have been instructed, and will heed my instructor.”
“My years are few. We live thirty or forty circles of the sun with ease, barring injury. Some fifty. I have crossed my thirty, every day has been a gift, every day forward, a small miracle. It is innate in all of us to cling to our physical form. Know this, death is for the physical form only. What you are is beyond physical presence. I will track your journey in this life. We are one in the supreme.”
And with a mighty stroke of his massive wings, he lifts off to his home high in the mountains.
“You heard, could you follow us?”
Janah, “Quite easily, Nikko got much of it as well. The bird is amazing, the things he discovers, flying in circles over his mountains.”
“I presume he follows us with stories from other birds.”
Janah, “No doubt. He isn’t going to fly to Manhattan. I suppose he could, but why? He gets what he needs to know like the old ones at the temple.”
“Sometimes they used cell phones.”
Janah laughs, “The eagle has his own wireless. Doesn’t pay a monthly fee either.”
“I hadn’t connected the two. You must be right, although neither explanations of us nor him explain much.”
Janah, “Okay eagle-eye, ready to go?”
“Yep. Dang, can you see him, flying in a circle, up the mountain?”
“Only If I look through your eyes. Mine just see stars.”
Nikko, “It is stunning. I look through Daphne’s eyes, see a universe I never imagined, colors I’ve never seen.”
Back at the cabin, Nikko tells the story to the children in song, a poem she sings, Eagle Touches Woman.
The best part is Amaya’s long hug at the end, her gentle kiss lingers on my lips, pronouncing, “Daphne receives miracles.”
My heart is clobbered. I’ve had lots of unique joys in my life, now another, Night Rain, the White Queen.
Janah, “I see she’s taken another heart.”
“She gives, in innocence and spontaneity. I give her myself freely.”
Janah, “Yes. I questioned at first. Was it manipulation? She’s had a lot of that. I’ve watched. It’s not. Her joy with us is genuine, there is no motive other than to express it. I confess to being rather baffled. I would have guessed we might have had more than a few dramas by now.”
Nikko, “For the first time in her life, she is protected, cared for, no reservation no restraint. She might have abused it, she’s too sharp though. If she even thought of it, she would conclude it wouldn’t fly with us. And why manipulate? She has what requirements, to study? That’s for her benefit, not ours.”
“Okay wonder-children, time to snuggle in. Watch the fire and drift away. We are going to bed.”
The adults hit their respective bedrooms, David Li in the loft, the girls on the fold out. Parents are gone, they could have a bedroom, but they like sleeping in front of the fire. Based on what I find in the mornings, they also like to snack late at night, easier to do with the kitchen a few steps away. I’m finishing up in the dishes. I feel Amaya behind me, turn, she takes my face in her hands, runs her finger along my lips, kisses them softly.
She smiles, whispered, “The first one felt really good, thought I should go for another,” she returns to her spot in front of the fire.
Janah, “That was sweet.”
“I think she’s on to me.”
“That you will serve as she wishes?”
“Yeah, I believe I’ve just been hired.”
Janah laughs, “If she wants pristine organization and absolute dedication, she’s made the perfect selection.”
The final two weeks come and go. No intrusion, no hunters killing mindlessly. Amaya is favored with more visits from the wolf, and the huge black bear that witnessed my visit to the eagle. God, he is massive, lumbering in, I’m on the dock, and stand to greet him. He sniffs me all over, puts a giant paw on my shoulder, I nearly collapse under the weight. He lays on his side, I lay against his shoulder, I can hear his heart thumping. We are still for half an hour, then I feel him stir. A giant tongue laps the side of my face, I roll over and take his massive head in my hands, scratch his ears and stroke his muzzle. We eyeball one another.
With a huff and a grunt, he stands, towers over me, and growls. Not threateningly, a growl is how they sound doing anything. I touch his chest and thank him for his visit. He thumps to all fours, the ground trembles, he lumbers off into the woods.
“Got a new boyfriend?”
“Sheesh, that’s one huge creature, a perfect gentleman. I’m glad he wasn’t inclined to wrestle. More like an exercise for Chan.”
“I didn’t catch any conversation.”
“There wasn’t any, I didn’t feel any vibe from him. I suppose he was curious about a human who met with an eagle. There was no transmission, I don’t feel compelled to hibernate.”
“It’s not winter yet.”
“I have no intention of going four months without sex.”
“You aren’t going four days without sex on my watch, and I’m always on watch.”
Chapter Fifty Four VI
Home again. I am so ready for my big noisy city, and my big noisy friends. It’s time to get Amaya’s final prep for school. She’d done well last year, past grade level. She’s dealing with equations on the laptop after one last futile attempt to get Janah to provide answers. Janah laughs at her.
Amaya, “She is infuriating. Does the White Queen not rate some skate?”
Nikko, “White Angel trumps White Queen. Dig in and quit complaining.”
Amaya giggles and goes back to the screen.
“I’m going to check in with Mini, who wants to come along?”
“Let me rephrase, who wants to come along except Amaya?”
I’m flattered, she picks up my phraseology, “Tell you what Queenie, one more hour at the grindstone, and we’ll all go the diner together. A productive hour, Janah’s going to check.”
The four of us are at the diner. Amaya, taking over my job as dilettante and flirt-in-chief, sits with Marsconi and Jocelyn, two of New York’s very finest. Marsconi is trapped in the limbo of deciding if we are saviors or a pain in his paperwork. Amaya is flipping him like a burger on Mini’s grill. He’s a goner.
Amaya, “Daphne says you two are the greatest cops in the city. She told me all about your exploits. She thinks you walk on water.”
Jocelyn groans, “You as full of it as de Seelk, white girl.”
Amaya, “White Queen if you please.”
Marsconi, “What’s that about?”
Amaya, “Daphne was used to being the queen.”
Marsconi, “Old news.”
Amaya, “When I came along, she realized she had to divide her queendom. So we negotiated, I am the White Queen, she the Red.”
Jocelyn, “Daphne went along, just like that?”
Amaya, “She did not seem to mind actually. I think she needed a rest.”
Jocelyn looks at the smiling angel, “Best you pay close attention to those women. They got skills, their skills got skills. You fell into a dream, honey.”
Amaya, “True. I got Nikko for a mom, Janah for a teacher, Daphne the amazing friend, and three, four, no five, grandmothers, and four uniquely brilliant grandfathers, a taekwondo master, two psychiatrists and a kendo master. I am learning the tea ceremony from Nishiko’s mother. It is so good to be me.”
Jocelyn, “Where have I heard that before?”
Marsconi, “Maybe you could charm your moms into keeping my paperwork down.”
Amaya, “See what I can do. I suspect you appreciate their occasional assistance. I am not privy to much about their work. We do not discuss it. I know they help people unable help themselves.”
Jocelyn, “She just gonna encourage them, Marsconi.”
He nods, “Get lost kid, we gotta save the city from the criminally intent.”
Amaya kisses him and Jocelyn, “You going to exit the diner, enter your vehicle and locate perps? I want to learn cop talk.”
Jocelyn, “Jesus, you turnin’ into Daphne.”
Amaya, “Daphne is splendid, I have the best possible girlfriend. Do not tell her I said so, her ego is surpassed only by mine.”
Marsconi, “Tell us about it,” they wave at us and leave, to locate perps I guess.
Amaya plops into the booth with us, chows down a burger and fries, “Your police friends are cool. They do not talk to me like a child. Detective Marsconi asked if you could keep his paperwork to a minimum, but I doubt he means for you to stop doing whatever it is that I am unaware you are doing.”
Janah, “Been chatting with David Li?”
Amaya, “He says little. But between David and Miyako, things begin to come together. They were not gossiping, kindly do not blame them for my incredibly perceptive nature.”
Janah, “Sounds more like you every minute.”
Nikko stares out the window, hand absently stroking Amaya’s hair. Mini comes over, picks her up.
“Burger was heaven. I will probably come back, to insure you are maintaining standards.”
Mini, “Bout as much chance as me dropping you, what you weigh, twelve, thirteen pounds?”
“Nikko does not allow fat. Her very presence causes it to melt.”
Mini, “She’s been coming here for years, it ain’t meltin’ off me.”
“She must think yours serves a purpose.”
Mini, “Yep. Besides, it ain’t really fat, more like loose muscle.”
Amaya, “Stick to your story, I will back you big man.”
Mini’s laughter thunders, “God Daph, I got Sis who looks like you, and this kid that sounds like you.”
Nikko says to no one, “Try living with both of them.”
Janah giggles, Mini thunders again, “I hear you, but I gotta say, considering the company, you get significantly and frequently compensated.”
Nikko, “There are children present.”
Amaya, “What? You think I am ignorant of how queer you all are?”
Mini gets red laughing, “I’m gonna have a frippin’ heart attack.”
Nikko, “Time for a short nap, and more homework.”
Amaya says Mini, “See what I have to endure? Nishiko watching over me, my teacher instructing me, Daphne taking care of me, one is worse than the other. The demands on my tender psyche, living up to constant affection.”
Mini, “Ain’t a tender psyche at this table, hotshot. Go home and do what’s necessary. And come see me again before the week’s out, or I’ll personally tenderize your psyche.”
“Can I get a slice of cheesecake to bring home?”
Nikko frowns at her, I mental, “What? She’s a rail.”
Nikko nods a yes at Mini, “You are one of her growing list of suckers.”
“Yep, but it’s me, I’m First Sucker.”
Chapter Fifty Five VI
God Save Me
HRH Daphne Sylk
The children are in school, Miyako is home schooled, courtesy of Janah, Ning and Kahn Academy. David Li in the temple permanently, shepherded by his namesake. Amaya at Chapmans, which suits us, right downstairs. Life is busy.
Then, it gets busier, Mrs. Epstein calls. We had, of course, seen them socially many times. Amaya charmed Mrs. E’s socks off like she did everyone else, particularly when she did a short tea ceremony, kimono and all, at Mrs. E’s gigantic spread on 5th Avenue. Amaya and Miyako spent weekends there a couple of times, another blow to my ability to get clothes and shoes out of Mrs. E. They all go to the kids now. And, I regret to say, they look really good.
“Hello dear, can you and your girls visit soon?”
Janah, “Of course. Would you like to see the kids, or shall we come alone?”
“Let’s have a private chat. If there’s nothing this weekend, I’d love to have the girls Saturday night. We are going to a society gig, they will get to dress up and play social snob.”
Janah, “No photos of Amaya, no matter how gorgeous she looks.”
“Of course not, dear one. My grandchildren are not photo ops. They will be instructed in social graces, although Amaya appears to be naturally gifted in these things. I’ll explain how the flame of her natural charm needs to be turned down in certain situations.”
Janah, “It will be a valuable lesson. She gets etiquette training at Chapmans. I think you’ve been invited to visit the Royals while they swirl through New York.”
Mrs. Epstein, “They are going to meet William and Catherine at a private gathering of New York’s very rich and very powerful.”
Janah, “Then I will have them prepped first, you can polish the diamonds Saturday.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Let me have them Friday afternoon. I’ll have to get them properly attired, and go over the rules.”
“Good. And can you see us before then?”
“Tomorrow, tell me when.”
“Come for breakfast, say eight thirty.”
They ring off.
“Get out of town, the kids are going to meet the Prince and Mrs. Prince?”
“Yep. Any I need to call Lacy to bring in her big guns the next two days. We will see Mrs. E tomorrow at nine, on less elevated matters.”
Janah rings Lacy, “I need emergency high society training. Our young ladies have been invited to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Can we get them whipped into shape in the next two days?”
Lacy, “Glad you don’t call with boring crap. Let me get it set up, call you back.”
The phone rings ten minutes later, “God, my contacts said you have garnered an invitation to the social event of the last hundred years. They are falling all over themselves to help with preparations. Can the girls be here tomorrow at ten?”
“Do they have any idea what a big deal this is?”
“No, and I don’t want them to. I want them appropriate, not kowtowing. As far as I’m concerned, William and Catherine, as gracious as they appear to be, are the fortunate ones for meeting Amaya and Miyako. Please make sure your people understand, this is not a session in obsequious groveling.
Lacy, “Perfectly sensible. What about Amaya, there’ll be lots of photographers.”
Janah, “The photos at the event will be strictly controlled, it is private after all. The girls will enter from the garage parking lot, off limits to photographers. The paparazzi will swarm the outer perimeter of course. The girls are going in a car so dark, God can’t see inside.”
Lacy, “Paparazzi are notoriously nimble, what if one slinks inside?”
Janah, “Other royalty will be in attendance to prevent success.”
Lacy, “Other royalty?”
“HRH Daphne Sylk will be part of the invited crowd. Nobody will photograph the children.”
Lacy, “I see. No, they won’t. Have the girls here at ten. By the event, they will BE royalty.”
I call Sis, perhaps I should have broken it gentler, “They are going WHERE? To see WHO? Chris!!! Amaya and Miyako are going to meet royalty!”
I hear C-mom in the background, “I thought they’d already met Daphne.”
Sis, “No, the real deal, (Excuse me?) Will and Catherine, right here in New York!”
Chris, “Christ, Mrs. Epstein rides again. That’s kind of cool.”
Sis, “That’s very cool, how’d you know it was the Epsteins?”
“Who else? I could rule out Mini and Mrs. Fong. I doubt Master Kim knows England has royalty. He may be unclear on England.”
I laugh, Master Kim is rather focused. Maybe I’d ask him if he’d heard of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Sis, “That’s simply incredible. You have the photography angle covered, of course.”
“Ain’t playin’ with amateurs here. You know who is going to help provide security.”
Sis, “You get to go too? Yeooow!”
“Well, I get to be visible. I’m going to dress up like a Shaolin monk, so’s the Abbess.”
“Janah’s going, in robes?”
“Yep, we get to see who bows first. I’m betting on William.”
“Can I have Nikko while you’re partying?”
“Nope, she’s also security, the invisible kind. They need security, who better than Shaolin monks and a nearly sane samurai?”
Sis, “How in hell did you swing that?”
“Okay, I got it. This was child’s play compared to the stuff you guys get done.”
“Good to have a smart older sister with dynamite legs.”
“This is the Saturday gig that’s on the TV endlessly?”
“No, that’s Metropolitan Museum stuff, this is the after-soiree group. Two dozen billionaires, trophy wives, a very few politicians, the Gov and the Mayor. A Senator among others who cannot be named. They are thinking fifty to sixty. It’s supposed to be a chance for the royal couple to chill, no speeches, no celebs, no photographers, no media. Although it is expected that attendees give substantial donations to the couples’ charity efforts.”
Sis, “Very nice. Going to brush up on your etiquette?”
“Why? Janah has all that stuff in her head. I’ll get my instructions on the fly.”
“You lead a charmed life.”
“I got your legs to thank for it. Janah wouldn’t have fallen for just any legs.”
Sis, “My significant other is wanting those legs and what they’re attached to, I’m going to fulfill her desires. Talk to you tomorrow.”
She rings off. My mom, a chance to chat with royalty and she opts for sex. Some people have their priorities straight. I vow to follow her example.
“Sis and Chris are having uninhibited sex. I think following motherly examples is in order.”
Nikko and Janah reply simultaneously, “It’s good to have a mother’s guidance.”
We laugh at each other, then we do the most uninhibited things, for the longest time.
If a royal visit makes my lovers this voracious, then…Rule Britannia. Yikes!
Chapter Fifty Six VI
If you meet a royal, here’s the generalities.
The Duke of Cambridge is addressed as “Your Royal Highness” at the start of a conversation, followed by “Sir” in later conversation.
The Duchess of Cambridge is “Your Royal Highness” first, then “Ma’am” in later conversation. Ma’am is NOT Mum. It’s a hard ‘a,’ like slam…Southern.
Open the conversational door with topics of interest to the couple. William enjoys polo, flying helicopters, and his charity work. Catherine likes hiking, tennis, swimming, hockey, sailing, photography and painting. Wait until William or Catherine offers his or her hand, then give a slightly firm handshake, DRY hands only. Take off the glove if there is one.
No bowing or curtsy, unless you’re a monk, monks bow to everyone. Otherwise, bowing and curtseys are for British citizens, it’s their royalty after all.
Now you know.
Since the girls don’t know anything about most of the topics of interest, they are coached on the charities, tying in our free school in Brooklyn. They could mention hiking in Canada, their personal experience of the beauty of the Canadian mountains. That would be more than enough. There would be a quickie receiving line, then mingling.
Big night arrives, the hotel is near hermetically sealed. Nikko goes early to meet the security staff, Janah and I show up an hour ahead of schedule, I want to personally scope the site, even though Nikko has given Janah and me a through her eyes briefing. Meticulously appointed room, high ceilings, gold filigree, five star hotel ballroom.
After introductions, Amaya compliments William on his charitable fund with the Duchess, particularly their interest in children and education. Then she drops in that her ward, the Abbess of the Shaolin monastery in Manhattan, created two free schools in Brooklyn for gifted but impoverished children. Williams ears prick up, this is new to him.
“Might I meet the Abbess?”
“Of course, sir. At your convenience.”
“I see two monks.”
Amaya smiles, “The one with the white hair is the Abbess. Shall I fetch her?”
“I’ll find her when the reception line ends. Shouldn’t be a moment. Could you ask her to remain for a bit?”
“Of course, sir.”
They move on to Catherine, handshakes and introductions, Amaya says, “We had the pleasure of hiking in the Canadian mountains,” she specifies the area.
Catherine, “Oh, I’ve never been. I hope to visit soon.”
Amaya, “It is quite extraordinary, crystal blue lake, hike the mountain to a splendid waterfall, icy cold water for weary feet. We lived off the land, just like the wildlife, fresh berries, herbs, fish right from the water. Splendid.”
Catherine, “Sounds delicious.”
Amaya, “Yes. My teacher and my best friend are the Shaolin monks here. The tall one is a remarkable chef. She pan fried fillets and made the most wonderful soups and desserts from herbs we found.”
Catherine, “I was wondering about the robes. You are related then?”
Amaya, “We live in Greenwich Village. The white haired monk is the Abbess of the Shaolin monastery here. The other is her companion, and a Shaolin priest. My mom is not Shaolin, she is their companion, we all live together.”
Catherine, “I see. Help me understand. What does priest mean exactly?”
Amaya dazzles a smile, “One must pass a series of physical and mental tests over many years. At the end, there is a rather grueling graduation ritual. Along the way she studied gung fu, calligraphy, several other arts, speaks English, Chinese and Japanese.”
Catherine, “I would like to meet her, could you arrange it?’
Amaya smiles, “I have inside connections. When the reception line is over, Daphne will approach and wait for your acknowledgement, Ma’am.”
Catherine winks, “Done.”
And Amaya and Miyako move on.
The gathering is appropriately placid, nothing like our friend Terrance’s parties. By now most of the crowded room would be dancing in a frenzy or plotting sexual encounters. I look around, no dancing, no sex. Maybe it’s too early.
The good Duchess has the crowd spellbound, and rightly so. She is charming, elegant, dazzlingly lovely.
“So, how do you read the Royals?’
“Far and away genuine. They’re well disciplined, but they seem to be as natural as their position allows. People expect a certain air. The Duchess is role playing, but only a little. She worked hard to get this, and damned if she’s going to screw it up.”
“I’m supposed to sidle up to her later.”
“I heard, Amaya stuck you on a limb, you’ll manage. Just don’t out smile her. It’s her day in the sun.”
“And you have a date with William.”
Janah, “I do? Okay then, I didn’t pick up that, I was engaged.”
Janah is intercepted by one of the minions and introduced to the Duke, I go offline.
I chat with a few of the rich, lots of questions about the robe. It’s doing its job, opening conversational doors. I generalize, turn the conversation to them. Janah memorized the guest list and the reason behind their money. I have a wealth of information to draw on, rise through the company, or leap to a better job, family, clubs, even college and charities.
I don’t collect business cards, but I overhear a couple of moguls telling spouses or companions to make a note of Daphne Sylk.
“Wonder what that’s about?”
“You have a storehouse of information. They figure if you got that deep on them, you can get that deep on anyone else. I suspect you’ll be hearing from one, perhaps more. They’ll start friendly, offer of lunch, invitation to something.”
“What do you think?”
“Go. You know how chat and not to say anything better than anyone I know.”
I giggle, “Babble-R-Us.”
Janah has a short conversation with William about schools, and the structure of Chapmans and the Shaolin schools. He is particularly interested in our proceed at you own pace method. Janah explains that Chapmans takes only highly gifted girls, so their pace is far ahead of the average student. She also explains that while her schools are for students who could not afford a Chapmans, we do accept only students that have aptitude beyond their peers. William is impressed that we house, feed and educate them at no charge.
“And there is no government subsidy?”
“No, sir. We live on the generosity of others. When donors see their money in action, continued support is not a problem.”
William, “Something to keep in mind for our own charities. Show results.”
Janah smiles, the Duke excuses himself , “Thank you, Abbess, please, send along a updates. I will read them with great interest, he turns to his handler, “Geoffrey, would you kindly give the Abbess the simplest way to contact me?”
Janah, “Quarterly reports sufficient , sir?”
“Can you spare time for monthly? I am quite interested in exchanging views.”
He turns to meet the Governor, Janah is in the middle of a few billion dollars, listening and explaining the robes and her role, a voice beside me says, “Could you spare a moment for the Duchess?”
I turn to a serious British gentleman, hair gone to grey, nose like a hawk, dignified, “I am delighted and honored.”
He smiles ever so slightly. So far, I haven’t destroyed relations between the US and the UK.
I must confess, I am taken. She is splendid, eases right into conversation, asks all about Shaolin and how I got there, gracefully and appearing genuinely interested.
“Janah and I have a long history. We met as children, went to school at Chapmans here in Manhattan, lived together and entered the temple together. We are described as two sides of the same coin.”
Catherine, “The young lady is charming. She and the younger girl are not related of course.”
“Amaya is the conversationalist. Miyako has a Japanese name but a Chinese heritage. Her father is also Shaolin. We own a home in town and we live at the temple off and on, depending on the work. I understand you studied art, Ma’am, one of our mom’s is an artist.”
“Yes, has she shown?”
“A bit, Kara Kiersted, she has a rather intense following, not much gets out publicly.”
“Kiersted! Good gracious, she’s amazing. I love her work. Is she here?”
“Unfortunately no, Ma’am. I shall tell her you enjoy her work if I may.”
“Surely, please. The art is electric, so happy to have found her daughter.”
“Janah is her birth daughter, we are so close, we long ago started calling each other’s mom, mom,” I don’t bother with more details of my stack of moms, too confusing, “And I understand you are quite the tennis player.”
We speak some about her favorite sport, then we talk of gung fu, I inquire after her sister.
“I know your schedule is impossible. However, should the occasion arise, allow me to extend an open invitation to visit our temple.”
“Oh, quite an unexpected pleasure. I wonder…are you going to be here for a while?”
“I’m also part of the security team, I’m here until you are safely away.”
She smiles, “I am under the protection of a Shaolin priest?”
I smile back, “And your safety is guaranteed, Ma’am.”
She laughs behind her hand, “Should I bow or something?”
“I’ll take care of the bowing. You have a crowd to wow, Your Royal Highness.”
She grins, “You’re having me on. One royal knows another.”
I bow, look at her, “Our secret.”
Henry hands her off to a kajillionaire couple and I go to find Janah.
“Check in with Nishiko, I’m cool. I think you have yet another friend.”
“That is one very well bred lady. She was kind enough to let me think we were at least temp pals. I thought it extraordinarily kind. I’ll be glad to get back to swapping lies with my transit cops, the Jamaicans and Mini. She lives a fairy tale I’m not part of.”
I do my check in, Nikko has it under control, knows who everyone is, serving staff to William, why they are there and where they are at this moment.
“I’m going to roam the ladies and the perimeter. I know you’ve already done it, but I need a break from the headiness, and get my attention where it belongs.”
I laugh, go to be productive.
I’m touring the two rooms, nothing amiss. People won’t leave until the Duke and Duchess are gone, and they are doing just that. When they are out, the same gentleman who approached me earlier glides in and comes to a landing off my right shoulder.
“The Duchess wonders if two o’clock tomorrow afternoon would suit your schedule for an hour tour?”
“Splendid, please tell her I am thrilled she was able to arrange it.”
“She is particularly interested in athletics. I believe she would love to see you demonstrate some of the kuen. I think she has a fondness for Praying Mantis.”
I grin at him, “Her Royal Highness wouldn’t know Praying Mantis from Drunken Monkey, “You, however, know more about gung fu than you let on.”
His eyes twinkle, “I have some small experience.”
“Perfect, the Abbess will be with you, anything you lose in translation to the Duchess, she will fill in.”
He looks relieved, “I’m no expert on the history of the order, just know gung fu as a martial arts practice.”
“Not to worry, Janah is an expert on all aspects. The Duchess will enjoy herself, and learn a few things, and she will have you to thank for it.”
“I am in your debt.”
I stick out my hand, “Since I’m not royalty, perhaps you could call me Daphne.”
He shakes my hand, “Henry, Henry Clarke. I serve the Duchess in a vague capacity.”
“From your handshake, and the calluses, I don’t find your capacity vague at all, my pleasure, Henry.”
I don’t see any point in laying out his name, rank and military experience. Janah had it, knew his decorations and his body count. But it isn’t relevant, and there is no need to show off. I suspect he’d already figured out we had resources, and likely knows a thing or two about us.
I give him numbers and directions, he leaves, Guests are politely shooed out the door as soon as William and Catherine’s car hits the street.
Chapter Fifty Seven VI
“All good girls need to sleep, big day tomorrow.”
The girls are a little wound up, but tired. I give them Chamomile, let them watch TV, then they’re out on the mat. We pile up in bed and sink into oblivion until five a.m.
Janah calls Chan, gives him the news and he leaves for the temple. There will be bit of spruce up and organization of who would demonstrate what. Other than that, the monks are to be in their daily routine, especially for the visit. The idea is to show our daily life, not some hoked up sanitized version.
Right on time, a car pulls up to the door. They’d managed to avoid a horde of photographers and reporters, mostly due to Mrs. Fong, who had the route sealed the old fashion way, with people. As the three cars enter Chinatown, the crowd mysteriously parts, then immediately seals as the third car passes. A couple of sneaky creeps are on motorcycles, no luck against hordes of people and metal pipes jammed in the spokes.
There is no back door to the temple, the rear wall butts up against a five story warehouse, windowless on our side. The roof is off limits for security reasons. Naturally, some photographers try back streets, hoping to catch the cars coming in. They have two problems, first, no one is sure where she’s going, second, the streets are sealed with a festival of uncertain origin. Monks line the path from the door to the street, and we’d put up a canopy for the walkway as well. No photo ops available from overhead, airspace is shut down for the whole of their visit. The subway exits and entrances are covered. Anyone exiting the subway has to head in the opposite direction of the temple, no exceptions. The young men of Chinatown do not brook any excuses, they just point in the direction the person would need to go, or they could go back down the subway stairs. They don’t smile, they aren’t friendly, or even polite.
The British Secret service swept through the temple earlier in the day and hangs out watching the walls and the sky.
Janah greets the Duchess, I take my new friend Henry’s arm and we walk her through the grounds, Janah unfolding both the history of Shaolin and the life of a contemporary monk. Catherine asks a few zillion questions, and appears to be genuinely enjoying a time out from the regimented days she has to deal with on foreign visits.
“The monks live here then?”
Janah, “Yes, it is required until they either leave on their own, or are ordained. After ordination, they must leave the temple and be out in the world for at least three years.”
“Then they may return to study or teach, or they may remain in the world. About a third return for some time. A few make it their permanent home.”
“Daphne told me briefly how she came to be here, with you. She also said you don’t live here full time.”
“No, we have other duties that require us to be away. We have our own schools. You met our ward, and we have teaching responsibilities at Chapmans School for Girls, and Daphne teaches other martial arts at our moms’ school in Greenwich Village.”
“You have a busy life.”
Janah, “It is so. We did not arrange it that way. We love to be hidden away here. Life brings us other duties, we are required to meet them. I suspect it is much the same with you.”
“You do understand. However, like you, I entered with my eyes open, and I shall fulfill my obligations to the very best of my abilities.”
Janah, “I don’t doubt that they will be handled exceptionally.”
Janah, “We have arranged a demonstration if you care to take a look at gung fu in action. I understand Henry has some experience in these matters.”
“Oh my, yes. He’s terribly excited. I enjoy athletics, I love tennis. I don’t suppose much tennis gets played here.”
Janah, “Perhaps we could introduce it.”
The Duchess of Cambridge laughs gently, her brilliant smile warm and radiant.
Three monks demonstrate various forms, and weapons. Then I do the Praying Mantis kuen, then the Snake. I follow with a nunchuck demonstration, Janah quietly explains the weapons and the nature of the forms.
The duchess is either amazed or does an amazing job of pretending to be amazed. The hour is up, Janah says, “I trust you found the time well spent. We can offer you tea if your schedule permits.”
Catherine turns to Henry, “The Duke and I are not engaged until five, is that correct?”
She says to Janah, “Tea is most welcome.”
The monks stand and bow, then move to routine as if there is no notable present. The Duchess takes tea with us, Chan, Master Khan and David. I serve.
Naturally the others have been introduced, Catherine is all questions, inquiring into the biographies of each. When she gets to Chan, Janah explains that he is the father of the young girl, Miyako she’d met the prior evening.
“Ah, what a lovely child, as is your ward.”
Janah, “Yes, Amaya. The two girls are hand in glove, we live next door to Chan and his wife Ning, they have a son named after David. David entered the temple with Chan, Daphne and myself, along with another who is out in the world.”
Catherine, “The meditation hall, is a visit allowed?”
Janah, “Of course, please, at your convenience.”
The Duchess thanks everyone, Janah walks with her, Henry and me trailing along.
Henry whispers, “She is quite taken with all this, as am I. It is like a visit to ancient China. This is no common gung fu school.”
“No, we don’t need fees from students. They don’t select us, we select them. And rather difficult standards must be met.”
Janah is explaining along the same lines, “Our students are required to study math, chemistry, biology, physics, computer science is popular. They must learn Chinese, or if they already know it, then another language. Our former students teach our current ones, plus we have numerous online courses. One of our moms is a talented programmer and design specialist, she does a great deal of security work, firewalls, internal network security for several large corporations here in New York. She keeps us in state of the art hard and software. Some of the monks are quite good at code.”
Catherine, “When do they find the time, I hear them out practicing now, there are meditation sessions, plus school.”
Janah, “I suspect much like Your Royal Highness, five hours of sleep a night.”
“I suppose I have something in common with them. I do get more time off in the home country.”
Janah, “As do I, the schedules lighten as we mature. Once a monk becomes a master, they decide their day, not our routines.”
Catherine, “Well, it has been a wonderful break in my routine. I can’t thank you enough for taking time.”
They shake hands, no girl hugging with the Duchess, mores’ the pity. She kindly compliments me on the demonstrations. Henry follows her out the door, surrounded by the security detail, past a corridor of monks three deep. And she is gone.
Later, dinner at the moms.
Janah, “She’s the real deal. I can’t say how the pressure of perfection will get to her, but she’s solid, genuinely interested in fulfilling her role, and quite happy. Anyone who pulls off that kind of life has a highly developed sense of self worth and wants the glamour and recognition. The position comes with its burdens. She walks a fine line every day.”
Chris, “So it’s stressful.”
Janah, “One person’s stress is another’s vibe. She doesn’t appear too stressed, she’s lost weight. Tired in the eyes. I’m convinced she’s into the whole business. Of course, it’s early. There will be the expectation of children. Beats me. Be interesting to follow her path now that we’ve met her. Before she was just a face in the news.”
Sis, “What did you think Daph?”
“I think what Janah thinks, remember?’
“Give it a go anyway.”
“She’s the kind of person, all the frills aside, that I’d like to know, to chat with. Her life is so unreal, that option goes away, maybe she can unwind with her sister. It would be fun to sit around the apartment and have a no holds barred talk, like we do with the family.”
“Then you like her.”
“Yeah, what I saw, I liked. We have a lot in common, both being royalty and all.”
Kara, “Makes perfect sense to me. We have two official Highnesses now, Red and White, a Duchess would feel quite at home.”
“I wonder if she likes martial arts movies?”
And so went our Royal adventure. A week later, we receive the nicest note I think I’ve ever seen written, on Her Highnesses’ personal stationery. I’d tell you what it said, but what’s shared between royals, stays between royals. Suffice it to say, I like her even better.
I am closing out Book VI here, hard to top a Royal visit. And Janah’s phone is ringing, it’s Mrs. Epstein.