Chapter Fifty Three
Nikko, “Quite a visit, I listened in on Janah’s talk and Amaya’s song, the conversation with Kahn afterwards. Concise observation on his part.”
Zi, “Nikko told me about it. May I request Amaya’s Heart Sutra? At the apartment, if she will?”
Amaya, “Of course, it is a joy to sing it.”
Zi strokes Amaya’s cheek, “And my joy to hear it.”
“Zi is impossibly cute, how can one refuse her anything?”
“Kind of what I thought, but now that we’re each other, I suppose I couldn’t think anything else.”
“We are the Queen Sutra. Perhaps I shall write and perform it.”
“Nishiko will have a field day with that.”
Amaya giggles, dazzling toothy smile. I want to jump her on the street.
“You may be allowed to sing me your own sutra later. Just because we are merged does not relieve you of your obligation to serve my physical needs.”
“I would be devastated to find out it did.”
Amaya takes my hand as we walk, “You are getting closer to fulfilling your desires.”
Voluntary servitude has the most gratifying benefits.
We walk a long time, observing, feeling the city. I engage my senses, to catch the sights and smells fully for Amaya. Waiting with the crowd to cross the street, I catch the scent of sugar and clove, someone has heart disease. I shuffle closer to a large woman in front of me, she’s sweating in seventy five degree weather, she hasn’t been jogging.
“Janah, the woman is going to have a heart attack.”
Janah looks through my eyes, sees the sweat pour. The light hasn’t changed, Janah moves in front of the lady, turns to her, “Excuse me ma’am, you aren’t feeling well. I notice you are sweating, it’s not hot, your eyes are glazed.”
“I feel dizzy, and my arm hurts,” she touches her left arm, not good.
“Call 911,” then to the woman, “Step over here ma’am, I have some familiarity with this, you need to sit, please, it will be okay.”
She feels poorly enough to just follow instructions, Janah’s voice is soothing, reassuring. She could have simply taken the woman under her control, but it isn’t necessary, happy to have someone help. She moves slowly, we get her to a store window with a brick sill big enough for her to sit.
I’d made the call, only thing to do is keep her going until the paramedics arrived.
Janah, “May I touch?”
The woman says, “Honey, the way I’m feeling you can do anything you want.”
Janah lays her hands on the lady’s back, neck, top of her chest.
“Heart’s working triple time and losing, those guys need to get here soon.”
I feel Janah slowing her heart, it is fibrillating, sending inefficient electrical signals and confusing the muscle.
“I hear the siren, under a mile.”
The woman slumps, not unconscious, rather relaxed, “It’s better, still hurts.”
Janah, “Paramedics are on the way, just breathe slowly, don’t talk, it’s going to be fine.”
She tries a half smile, then a grimace, the pain subsides. Amaya flags down the ambulance, an EMT and paramedic pop out and surround the lady.
The paramedic says to Janah, “Step away miss, we have it.”
The woman says, “She ain’t going no place until I’m in the ambulance. She saved my life, made my heart quit kicking me.”
The paramedic acquiesces, Janah isn’t in the way, if she helps the woman feel better by her presence it will do.
She’s loaded onto the stretcher, into the ambulance, Janah squeezes her hand on the way in; the lady, now with an oxygen mask on her mouth, lifts it and murmurs, “Thank you, my guardian angel.”
They are gone in a cacophony of flickering lights and sirens.
Zi, “You saved a life. I felt only a disturbance in the crowd. Janah noticed her sweating, yes?”
Janah, “Daphne can smell illness sometimes. She caught the scent, when she drew my attention to the woman, the perspiring, her eyes and the pain in her arm told me what I needed to know.”
“Smell illness? What senses you have.”
“That’s one I could live without.”
“And one that allowed another to live.”
“Yes, a mixed gift, I’m happy it was useful. I have to keep it turned down. In New York, I pass someone with something a dozen times a day. For better or worse, I can’t be calling 911 every half hour. Eventually someone would want to know what the heck I’m about. Mostly, I have to let life do what it does. I don’t mean it cruelly, but who am I to decide it isn’t time for someone to die? I won’t leave someone obviously in immediate danger oblivious, but how can I walk up to people and say, ‘You smell bitter, you need a cancer screening.’”
“Not unless you want to spend time in front of a psychiatrist. Maybe they would assign you to James or Dr. Epstein.”
We finally make it to the apartment. We’d walked five miles, not counting the two mile schlep to the temple. It’s nearly seven, time for a shower and food.
Chapter Fifty Four
Girls hit the showers, I call Dominic and get the Italian extravaganza ordered, then climb in the shower when Amaya and Zi finish up. While they play dry the lesbian, I wash my hair and bathe. It feels so good to let the hot water unwind, get all squeaky clean then dance under cool water to liven up. I’m a sensory pig, I relish little life stuff, sue me. Before you do, remember, my lawyers are bigger than your lawyers.
Just as I get organized and decently dressed, Paladin calls, “Food’s here.”
Down the elevator, gather up the packages, “This pizza is for whoever is around. It’s an extravaganza, no anchovies. Enjoy.”
Sarah, the Paladin guard at the front desk, said, “I eat anything, and the pizza from Dom’s place is a national treasure, thanks.”
“Who’s on duty with you?”
“Joanie Winters. She’ll appreciate the food, she came here after another driving job and no time for dinner.”
“Good, she knows Chapmans keeps food in the fridge and stacks of granola bars and fruit in the kitchen? You guys are welcome to it.”
“Yes, but it doesn’t touch Dom’s pizza, thanks again Daphne.”
“My pleasure, just kill the terrorists before they get to Lacy.”
Sarah laughs, “They aren’t getting past this desk if I’m breathing.”
I haul the food up, the oven on for warming. Amaya has a crispy Chianti open, a healthy vodka for herself, I’m set with a crispy Coke Zero, Zi with green tea. The next thirty minutes is spent in quiet appreciation of gourmet Italian.
Nishiko and Zi clean up, Amaya and I park with Janah on the mat and we jump back in time to the early nineteen hundreds with the aristocracy of Downton Abbey. Feathers ruffle, insults exchange, supercilious people, the plain folk who serve them and endure upper class pretense and stupidity.
Janah likes the costume part, she is an antique clothes girl after all, frills, lacy fabric, swirls and buttons. Can’t object to her regression, she’s adorable in the outfits, almost as adorable as in nothing.
Janah, Nikko and Zi wander off to bed, Amaya and I lay in bed and laugh our way through The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, then squish into each other and drop off.
Morning comes, no surprises so far. Breakfast for the troops, Chloe appears at eight thirty. It’s a math and literature day, math first, Amaya and I walk her to Susan’s for her money math lesson. She’s well past the making change part, multiplication, division, now Susan is going to move her into fractions, drawing parallels from farm math to financial math. They spend time looking at the stock market, then financial reports light.
Janah does research on whatever has struck her fancy recently, Nikko, Zi and I practically sanitize the apartment. I like the mindless nothing of cleaning, it’s not like you have to think hard, push, pull, squirt liquid on the counter, rub until it’s gone. Scrub the tubs until the white is bright, keep moving until the place is shiny. With three of us, it takes less than two hours with two tea breaks.
Janah disconnects from her laptop, looks around, “Geez, the place is perfect. I love a spotless home, and I love it more when I don’t do any of the spotless part. Thank you, girls.”
Zi, “No different than my days cleaning the temple, actually far easier. In China we got a broom, a pail, a mop, and disciples yelling at us. Then I came to our temple in America and there is no yelling, and the place is even cleaner.”
“Janah’s not much on yelling. In fact she’s never raised her voice. It’s when she gets quiet you have to be on guard.”
“Yes, I have seen her in non action at the temple.”
I retrieve Chloe, she leaps into my arms, “Daphne, Susan showed me fractions, percents and we are going to study probability when I can translate fractions into percentages. Can Janah work with me?”
I kiss her, “Janah is pretty busy, but there’s a great online program, Kahn Academy, introducing that very subject. If you go through it, and show Sis what you can do, I’m sure she’ll be happy to take you further.”
Susan, “She’s not yet steady on one quarter is twenty five percent. I’m not worried, she’s ten. I’m telling you so Janah can set her up on the online work she needs.”
“Got it. Just so you know, she’s studying kendo with Hanshi and cooking with Ari three days a week. Probability will take time.”
“No rush. Most adults with a college education don’t grasp probability. When she’s fifteen, she’ll outpace ninety percent of college graduates. My guarantee or your money back.”
“College graduates. You set the bar pretty low.”
Sis laughs, “Okay, ninety percent of math grad students.”
I kiss Susan, Chloe gives her a big hug, “You are the best, Sis. Thank you.”
Susan, “I drew the line at Granny. She can all me Sis or Susan, Lacy is Lacy. It might be lame, but that’s the rule.”
“Grandma would be ridiculous. Both of you are scorching hot MILFs.”
Chloe holds my hand on the way back, smiling up at me intermittently, her joy immeasurable, pure, sincere.
Chapter Fifty Five
Mrs. Epstein, “Hello, Janah. How is the newest princess?”
Janah, “Captivating, incredibly busy, kendo, Japanese cooking school, studying Japanese, geisha, math with Sis, literature with Amaya, dance with Lacy, etiquette at Chapmans. Fortunately she’s young, and her prior lack of formal education left her hungry to know. I still have the Sunday rule, we come to a halt most Sundays.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Guess you don’t see her as much as you’d like.”
“Not hardly. Trapped in a farmhouse for ten years, she loves going to Susan’s, your place, the RSGs have adopted her. They want her at the monthly sleepovers and help with tutoring during the week. Ning and Chan only get her a couple of nights a week.”
“They are okay with that? I mean, officially, they are the parents.”
“Ning keeps a close watch on her schedule and her temperament. As long as Chloe is staying balanced and showing progress, she’s fine with it. She has a successful restaurant to run. The days of being around all the time are gone for her.”
Janah, “He’s been a dear. I’m sure he would prefer Ning around more, but he sees her happiness in her work. She’s a bundle of energy, she likes the craziness. If she likes it, he likes it. Chan has become the nerve center of Chinatown, Mrs. Fong’s role when she was alive.”
“Must keep him busy then”
Janah, “Yes, and he doesn’t drive her places, we use a car service. They visit without the distraction of him driving. Chloe loves talking to Chan. He’s a complete Buddhist, she asks questions, he questions her questions.”
“And the busyness keeps her from dwelling on the past.”
“She talks to Chan about it. His early years were similar. Lots of time in an apartment, mother bringing home strangers most nights, fending for himself. He relates to that part of her that none of us experienced.”
“The people you collect, or I should say, are drawn to you. Every one far better off than they dreamed possible.”
“Mrs. Epstein, no matter what I do, I receive much more than I give.”
“That’s the way of it, the way most people never understand. And I have a less pleasant matter to discuss. Are you available?”
“When do you want us?”
“Afternoon tea suits. We have a thing tonight, but it’s not until eight. Does three work?”
“See you then.”
It’s one now, Chloe is off to Chapmans for etiquette, then is sitting in on Amaya and Taylor’s fashion course.
“Amaya, we are going to Mrs. E’s for three. I’ll fill you in when I get back, probably five.”
“Got it. Has she left for Chapmans?”
“Then I need to be bathed and prepped for my class.”
I go to her room, she’s on the laptop writing something. I draw the water, add lavender oil, I hear the laptop click shut. She climbs in the Jacuzzi while I put away her clothes and collect the new outfit.
Amaya, “Today calls for business elegance, black pencil skirt, white dress shirt, the one with French cuffs, the black suede Jimmy Choo wedge sandals. OPI Color to Dinner For, diamond tennis bracelet, platinum filigree ring, one only, black pearl necklace.”
I do her nails and toes, all shiny in the dark pink shade she wants. While her nails dry I do makeup, sandal eye shadow, a shade darker eyeliner, Clinique Tender Honey lip gloss. She’s in front of her mirror, slips on black bikini panties, shirt, skirt and shoes. After adjustments, I finish with jewelry.
Amaya, “I bring new meaning to ‘all that,’ yes?”
“Your bar is so high other women need a telescope to glimpse it.”
“Everyone needs inspiration, it is my role to provide it, with grace and style.”
We laugh together. Her ego has ego, she’s not entirely joking. When you grow up as a child model, blow away the competition, the subject of thousands of photographs and worshipful fans, a certain attitude gets ingrained. Can’t be helped. That most of the fans were much older men she never saw doesn’t matter. She’d heard stunning, beautiful, perfect, a goddess and every other possible compilation of compliments, if she weren’t at least a little egotistical it would be weird. She is also generous, affectionate and kind, our dominance play notwithstanding. That part is our game, our fun.
It’s time to go to the Epsteins. Paladin rings up to let us know our car is here, we are at the Epstein’s condo in twenty.
After tea is served, accompanied by finger sandwiches and pastry, we get down to business.
Mrs. Epstein, “Selling children is completely out of control. It infested large cities, the market easier to tap, but like drugs, it’s moved into smaller ones as well. Worldwide child trafficking revenue is bigger than Google, Starbucks and Nike combined, an estimated seventy billion dollars. The prime destination for the children is the United States. A website called Backpage, owned by New York’s own Village Voice, is a major site for underage prostitutes.”
Janah, “And none of those statistics include abuse of children who grew up here, abuse by family members, authority figures or others.”
“No, those girls aren’t sold or rented, just abused for some pervert’s amusement, usually a family member or someone the family knows. Unfortunately, the best guess is that only ten percent of cases are reported. The problem is vast. Upwards of three million children.”
“Even if it’s only one third…a million kids.”
Nikko, “No rest for Nishiko.”
I wonder about my relations with Amaya, that started when she was fifteen. Even though she initiated things, should that make a difference? Janah and I started when we were fifteen. Both were consensual, but in the eyes of the general American population, a fifteen year old can’t consent. If a fifteen year old can consent to intimacy with another fifteen year old, why can’t she consent to a twenty five year old?
I don’t regret my actions, Amaya has assured me repeatedly that she knew what she was doing and nobody convinced her to do anything. It’s done, Amaya is over twenty, although isn’t physically aging. Physically, she’s still fifteen. She was exploited as a child though. Perhaps I should have taken that into account. Since we’ve merged, I know her thoughts better than anyone. What she tells me is what she firmly believes, she was ready for an intimate relationship, she wanted me to be the intimate. Still, I think of this when I’m pondering the lives of children who don’t have a choice. Societies have to draw the line someplace, in some countries it’s eighteen, some it’s thirteen. Do I let nebulous social convention, corrupt in so many ways, decide for me? Am I taking my own stand, or wallowing in self justification?
Janah, “We all knew what was happening. Neither Nikko nor I thought it was a big deal. We knew Amaya, she’d been with us for years. If I had objections I would have talked it over with you, as would Nikko. We didn’t. Amaya demonstrated maturity and good judgment all along. She was ready, artificial social constructs may apply in the general, pointless in the specific. Do you really think some group of politicians or social workers have a special insight into all teenagers, which one is mature, which one is still a child in a grown up body? That’s ridiculous, and the succeeding years bear out our decision. None of us conveniently ignored anything.”
I know these things, of course. Still, it doesn’t hurt to reflect. I don’t assume everything I do is ‘for the best’ or ‘right.’ That’s political thinking, ideological religious thought, somebody else’s agenda. Obviously I had second thoughts, even though the event itself is long gone. Doesn’t mean I feel guilty. It’s good to question my behavior, even when it makes me wonder where I fall on the scale of morality, in fact, because it makes me wonder where I fall on the scale of morality.
Amaya, “Quit babbling, silly woman. Do not insult me by presuming you knew better for me than I knew for me. Go and take out some sex traffickers. There is nothing to doubt, I had, and have, no reservations.”
“Got it, thank you.”
My conscience review had only taken moments, mentaling is instantaneous, Janah and Amaya read my thoughts as I had them, despite an ongoing conversation with Mrs. Epstein. Nikko said nothing, she’d voiced her opinion long ago and seldom repeats herself.
I return to the present, Mrs. Epstein is giving Janah the pass code to the website. Janah goes to the computer, flips through the pages, returns. The data is now in three heads, Amaya is downloading from mine.
Chapter Fifty Six
Janah, “The Society has a list of pimps a mile long. They’ve been calling the numbers, find out who the phone belongs to and where it is. Then Surveillance starts. Once they’ve tracked who makes deliveries, who ultimately gets paid and where they are, they track to the places the girls are kept. We have two jobs, delete the pimps, then clear out the guards so relocation crews can remove the girls without interference. The Society has been working on the first set for six months and there are already twenty confirmed. They can shift Surveillance resources to monitor only and deploy the rest to new locations.”
Zi, “What cities?”
“Where would you like to go?”
Zi sighs, “Oh my.”
Chloe comes bursting in, receives her hugs and kisses, “I’m off to Hanshi. You better miss me a lot, I’m getting trained in the sword. If my feelings get hurt, who knows what might happen,” she giggles at herself.
“We’ll be out of town for a few days, not back before you finish at the Murakami’s. You will be with Chan and Ning, Susan if you wish. I want it posted on the site before we leave, repost if arrangements change. You’ll hear from us, I can’t say when. We will be back no later than the end of the week.”
Chloe, “Everyone is going, must be serious.”
Nikko, “They are all serious child. We all came for you.”
“Then you are helping people who can’t help themselves. I will ask Hanshi for time to meditate for your success. Do you need Chan? I can figure out where to stay.”
Janah, “This trip, we want Chan here with you.”
We decide on Los Angeles, the list is long there. We aren’t going to try for more than a couple, maybe three. It’s a first foray into the murky swamp of child sex slavery.
Zi, “This all seems overwhelming.”
“Only if we think we should fix everything.”
“Ah, I’m caught up in should be. You are saying we fix what is presented. I ought to know better.”
“Your heart aches for the suffering, it is your nature as a Sensitive. Do not lose that, it can guide us to better decisions.”
Zi nods in affirmation, she leaves us for the meditation loft. She spends a great deal of her time there. A Sensitive can be fun and playful, they can also be deeply affected by the suffering of others. For Nikko and me, it’s simple, cut out the cancer, go home. For Zi, there’s the nagging question of whether the cancer can be treated before we excise it. Janah had much the same feeling, until she underestimated Manolo’s attacker. Life is learning and learning involves both failure and success. Buddhism teaches that mistakes are not mistakes, nor successes, successes. There are merely things that happen and things that do not happen.
Beverly Hills, the Peninsula Hotel on Santa Monica Boulevard. We park in two Villa Suites. The luxuries are endless, the garden lovely, Jacuzzi, double sinks in the bath, a large sitting room. Amaya is in girl heaven, Rodeo Drive a half mile away, all for a mere twelve hundred a night per. We stow the clothes, then to the Roof Garden for lunch.
The menu is extensive, Janah has Brandon’s Barbecue Pickled Salad, Minted Macadamia Nut Cole Slaw and Red Pepper Orzo, Nikko and I prawns, Amaya a Chinese chicken salad, Zi a grilled fish entrée with wild rice and mushrooms. We spear tastes from each other’s plates. Splendido deluxe.
We’d left New York by private jet at seven, got here at ten thirty, three hour time pickup. Now, it’s one thirty and we go to the rooms to organize clothes and chill for a bit. At three we gather in Janah’s suite for a strategy session.
Janah, “We’re getting straight to business tonight. Our targets are spread out over LA. We can do a pimp a night, during the day, we locate the girls and deal with guards. Then back here. We aren’t taking much play time, I didn’t call Joan Wayne, she’d want to come over and have girl fun and we don’t have the time. Maybe we’ll schedule a free night or two on the next trip.”
Amaya, “What if I am discovered and rushed off to film the next big action-adventure?”
Nikko, “The idea is to remain undiscovered.”
Amaya flips her hair, “Hollywood’s loss.”
“I’ll rediscover you.”
She smiles into space, space smiles back.
Janah, “Tonight’s target is a freak called Frisco. He’s a clubber, but it’s Tuesday, not much happening. Right now, he’s receiving last night’s take. His safe will be chock full of cash, which is going to pay for our extravagance plus. Note, these guys are locked and loaded. Frisco has two bodyguards at home, three at the site where the girls are kept, not counting the men who shuttle the girls to the buyer.”
Zi, “Who’s picking us up?”
“Nobody. There’s an SUV in the hotel lot, Amaya drives. The glass is bulletproof, the tint dark. She and I stay in the car until you have the target strapped down. We come in, get what we need from Frisco, back to the hotel.”
Zi, “How do we know all the girls will be there?”
“We don’t. First, we aren’t sure how many there are, we liberate the ones we can. Surveillance tracks who goes out and where, other teams will take the girls from the pervs who rented them.”
Nikko, “I’d prefer to refocus them too.”
“I know. We have video of young girls being escorted to a location, usually a hotel, and video of them leaving. The Society will handle delivering video to law enforcement. It will be problematic, we aren’t turning the girls over to the cops or social workers, there’s no live person to testify.”
Nikko, “So they walk?”
“The Society has a plan to expose the customers, likely as painful as being arrested. Most have jobs and families. The recordings will be sent to both. What happens, happens.”
Amaya, “They helped make a mess of a young girl’s life, seems karmic to live in a mess of their own.”