Chapter Sixty One

This morning I’m contemplating the prospect of Nishiko and I creating interpersonal mayhem when the phone demands attention.
Janah answers, it’s dear Mrs. Epstein, “Good morning darlings. I trust everyone is in fighting shape?’
Janah, “Always”
“We need a perspective freshened. Visit the site and get the lay of the land, call in your requirements. We would like this handled soon.”
“Bye.”
They ring off. Mrs. Epstein’s brevity can only mean one thing. She is particularly annoyed which means something that would particularly annoy Janah. What annoys Janah is men abusing women and children. Bear in mind, Janah doesn’t much get annoyed, she is mellower than marijuana. If it annoys her, that means someone has done something to trample on her boundaries. You do not want to trample on Janah’s boundaries. If you do, then Nikko and I show up. Your lifestyle undergoes an abrupt rearrangement, or an abrupt cessation. I don’t care which, Nikko prefers terminal solutions.
Janah fires up the site, scans the material, shuts down.
“There is just no end to these guys.”
“We’ll go to Alabama, forget to read him his rights, and he will leave town, or the planet. In any case, his abuse days are over.”
“I want to talk to this cracker. I don’t know what I hope to find out, I just want to look him in the eye and ask why.”
“You’re just going to hear an excuse, attempted justification, it will be bullshit.”
“Not after I’m done with him. I’m going to get beyond excuses and explanations. I’m going to find out why if I have to shred every neuron in his maladjusted head.”
“I’ll arrange travel. Go up to the meditation loft and start to sort this out. Amaya, please get the baggage organized.”
Amaya, “On it, usual traveling gear?”
“Everything.”
We’re set in an hour, I fill in the others, “They have us flying in the morning to Atlanta, three hours on I-20 to Hoover Alabama. There’s nothing that accommodates four comfortably, so travel arranged two rooms at a Hyatt.”
Janah, “Good, I see the packing’s done. If you and Nikko want to work out, go, just back off the hard stuff.”
We opt to stay at the apartment, do forms slow and fast, work the Dim Mak bags, get the blood flowing, inside, not outside.
Nikko, “You managed to dodge your beating twice now.”
“Maybe I’ll get pounded on the job, it’s not the same as you doing it though. With you, it’s erotic.”
“We don’t take much punishment on jobs unless there’s a Dark One. This doesn’t sound like that. It sounds like standard asshole.”
“This one has friends, too soon to say if we swipe him alone or have to wade through his pals first.”
“Let’s wade though his pals anyway.”
That’s my girl.
Amaya is buried in her computer, a quick glance tells me she’s finishing Chris’ book. Her focus is rather amazing, as if there is nothing else going on in the room, the apartment, New York or the universe. I think she might stare a hole in the screen one day.
Janah has photos spread out on the kitchen table, “Here’s the charmer, his wife and kid, his friends, house, truck. Over there are photos of Hoover itself, his hangout, a C&W bar.”
“Yuck, I’m getting grouchy already.”
Nikko, “Since you want to talk to him, this can’t be public, he doesn’t get humiliated in front of his friends, we have to grab him and haul him someplace.”
Janah, “Yep. Travel has a location, about thirty miles south. It will have running water and working electricity by the time we get there. It’s an abandoned house not visible from the road, no neighbors within two miles.”
Amaya comes from her room, “What’s his name? And how did he earn our attention?”
“Dale, Dale Fedders, reported by someone unknown to someone else unknown, who mentioned it to a Society contact. The Society did background and decided Fedders is one of the bad guys. He’s a typical case. All macho bullshit, beer drinking meth head. Dale actually has a job, he owns a body shop, three or four guys work for him. Apparently used to be a really good fender man, opened up his own place. Like many people who have a skill, he thought that meant he also had other skills, like being a business owner. Now, he sits on his ass and his guys fix broken auto bodies. He makes less money than when he was the fender guy, and has more headaches from dealing with the county, customers, and employees.”
Amaya, “And that has him aggravated enough to beat his wife?”
“No. He was busted for that with other live-ins prior to opening his shop. I suppose the aggravations don’t make him any nicer. There’s likely other bad chemistry. Normally, abusive types were abused as children. Janah is trying to discover why, specifically why, an abused child doesn’t revert to just the opposite, a more caring spouse or parent.”
“You would think that would happen.”
Janah, “It does. They don’t show up in arrest records though, they aren’t abusive. Some therapists think that the abused child is torn. There is a parent who claims to love them, and may even be nurturing a lot of the time. But then turns abusive with whippings or worse, frequently for nothing the child did. The theory is that the child learns to see abuse as part of love. When they grow up, the cycle starts again.”
Amaya, “And what do you think?”
“I don’t know. There is clearly a connection between being abused and becoming an abuser. If the psychology is misunderstanding what love is, okay. Don’t even use love, what caring is. It’s easy to see how the kid confuses caring with hitting. Even if they think abuse is part of caring, it still must be confusing and frustrating. The fear of the next time gnaws to the point of anger. They can’t deal with the dissonance of being hugged one minute and punched the next.”
“Daphne does that with Nikko, it does not make her angry.”
“That’s voluntary, and they are adults, at least Nikko is,” they laugh, “besides, the more contradictory it is, the better Daphne likes it. Another explanation also seems simpler to me than beating is caring. A child is beaten by a bigger, stronger adult. He knows it isn’t love or caring, they just want revenge. They can’t confront the bigger stronger adult, so it simmers. When the child is an adult, it’s payback time. Except the anger is transferred to their kids or their spouse, weaker than them. All his young life he is in fear of the stronger, and when he grows up, he’s still afraid, which gets him angry, so he takes it out on the weaker.”
Nikko, “That makes as much sense as the love is violence theory.”
“I guess, in a way it doesn’t matter much. Abusers still need to be refocused. Explanations aren’t cures, nor are they excuses. Some kids grow up to be bullies when parents are too lenient and the kid’s bully behavior overlooked. First, they need to be stopped, then if someone wants to take time they can be understood.”
Amaya, “So it could be a combination of things, and a little different for every situation?”
“Yes. I don’t believe that my noodling around in the brain of one abuser is going to explain abuse. If I get the chance to drill down into a lot of them, perhaps then a common thread would emerge. In the end, it’s all faulty neurochemistry. It’s how the neurochemistry gets faulty that I’m curious about. It may be bad from the start, abuse or no.”
“Shall we go to the diner for lunch, haven’t see our guys in a while.”
Amaya, “I’d like to stay here, I’m working on the book and I have a roll going.”
Janah, “Let’s go, I want to get out for a bit.”
The three of us walk to the diner, Amaya buries herself in her task.
Mini, “Hey girls, where’s Amaya?”
“Working at home. She has a creative project going, can’t be bothered with ordinary mortal stuff like food.”
Mini, “And what’ll it be for you, it’s past lunch, you here for coffee, or a snack?”
“We haven’t had lunch yet. Could you do a veggie sandwich, grilled cheese for me, Nikko?”
“Same, no fries.”
“Yes, a few chips, pickle please. Oh, and a chicken salad to take back to Amaya.”
Mini, “Be up in a sec.”
And it is.
Chuck comes over, “How’s the family?”
He’s asking after Susan indirectly, I say, “We’re moving on with life. Susan is handling it well. We did have a few months of knowing, it wasn’t a surprise, there was time to prepare, adjust.”
Chuck, “Good, give her my best. Chris used to like to come here, I hope Susan continues.”
“She will. It’s more that she’s been busy with work, she hasn’t been out much at all.”
He nods, moves off to a customer coming in the door.
We eat, wave our goodbyes and head home. Amaya is working, I bring her sandwich on a plate with a few chips and a Coke Zero.
“Thank you Daphne, you may kiss me,” sly smile while she studies the screen.
I snag her soft cheek, stroke her hair and leave her to the book.

Chapter Sixty Two

Hoover Alabama is a suburb of Birmingham, not small, population eighty thousand. Big mall, all the burb accoutrements, cookie cutter food joints, cookie cutter houses, cookie cutter groceries, cookie cutter gas stations, cookie cutter people. Football on Friday,
Home Depot on Saturday,
church on Sunday,
America the Same.
“Man, how can you tell if you’re even in the right neighborhood? They all look alike. Chipotle Grill, didn’t we just pass a Chipotle Grill? I think that’s the third Applebee’s.”
Janah is laughing, “We have those things every other block in Manhattan. They’re like Starbuck mushrooms.”
Amaya, “It would be cheaper if they just built a giant chain restaurant mall. Each restaurant could retain its individual décor in a separate space, but all of them would be in one giant indoor mall. They do a version of that at airports.”
“Good idea! It’s no different than having twenty shoe stores in one mall, seven jewelry stores and who knows how many women’s clothing outlets. You may be onto something. I wonder what the total inventory is of women’s clothes versus the amount sold on any given day.”
Janah, “The inventory to sales ratio for clothing and accessories is high, about 2.4 to 1, that is, two dollars and forty cents of inventory for every one dollar sold. We can assume most of the inventory is women’s wear. The ratio for all types of business is about 1.3, so clothing has the highest inventory to sales ratio. One presumes that’s why the markups are so high.”
Nikko, “Why would anyone know that?”
“It was in the US Census Bureau’s report in 2011. I decided that the rags business was not one we needed to get into.”
Amaya, “No wonder retail stores are always closing, there is way too much stuff hanging on racks collecting dust.”
Nikko, “I learned from my parents, inventory is money on the shelf. If it doesn’t sell in a few days, reduce the price until it’s gone. That’s why I like real estate. I know what I paid per square foot, have a good idea what it’s going to cost to maintain it, pay tax and insurance per square foot. Add them up, plug in a vacancy factor, lease for more than that.”
“So, in effect, tenants are covering the cost of vacant space?”
Nikko, “Of course.”
“Dang. So it’s a good business?”
“You’re getting richer by the day.”
“Amaya, you and I are going shopping. Thank your mother.”
Amaya kisses Nikko, “Best possible mom.”
We head south down Highway 31, which follows I-65. We’re scouting the spots where Dale hangs out, works and lives. The Shelby County area is pretty well to do, but auto body guys, mini-mart attendants and Wal-Mart workers need a place to live too, and it isn’t going to be in a gated community with a ‘lifestyle’ theme. The lifestyle theme of our target is more like, “Do we have enough money to make the rent, buy beer and cigarettes, or do we stiff the landlord again?” Yee-hah.
Our little doggie, (yeah, I know, that’s Texas talk, but crackers all sound alike to me) is still at work. We eyeball the place, corrugated tin, roof and all, open entrance to the garage, cars and trucks in differing states of banged up. There’s a separate building for painting the completed job, that needs to be dry and dust free.
“I know we came for reconnaissance, but he’s here, we’re here. It isn’t likely to get simpler.”
Janah, “Supplies are in the back, we know where we’re taking him. Let’s do it.”
Nikko and I have refocusing gear on, we hadn’t weaponed up yet, but the toys are in the van with Janah’s interrogation equipment. I pull into a convenience store lot, Nikko hands me nunchucks, my serrated blade and shuriken. I stuck the nunchucks in my belt at the small of my back, shuriken in their pouch, knife in my pocket. We slip on gloves. Nikko carries two of her favorite knives, and a waist chain of stainless steel links with ball bearings the size of ping pong balls on the end. The chain double wrapped around her bandoleer style, it’s four feet long. When she whips it around her body left and right, she resembles a buzz saw. She can crush concrete blocks with it.
The garage is open front and in back. Janah and Amaya wait in the van, I walk in the front, Nikko around back. Dale is sitting at a grimy desk, feet up. Two guys are dismantling a fender, a third is drinking coffee, leaning half butt on the edge of Dale’s beat to hell desk.
We aren’t much disguised, Amaya stuck on a tattoo on me, Nikko has a watch cap and black frame safety glasses. She looks rather fetching in glasses. The men look towards me.
Dale, “Help you, honey?”
“I do body work too. You don’t want my kind of body work. To avoid it, you can take a ride with me.”
Dale smirks, he’s big enough, six three, not gone to seed, hard edge, “We goin’  get a brew? That’d be nice, you lookin’ all motorcycle ready, long legs, slim, strange tat on your jaw, what is it?”
“Hànzi….for pain.”
Dale, “Wow. You must be pretty tough, pretty and tough, is that it?”
“You don’t know the half of it, wife beater.”
Dale nods, “That what this is about? S’all a misunderstanding, she’s dropped the charges. Why you care anyway?”
“All the other times misunderstandings too? You kid’s broken arm a misunderstanding? His black eyes a misunderstanding, your former girlfriends a misunderstanding? You are one misunderstood motherfucker. But, lucky for you, I understand. And when I’m finished there won’t be any more misunderstandings.”
Dale gets up, Half Butt with him, the two mutts actually working stop, hadn’t exactly heard the conversation, but saw the action and know it isn’t likely to end pretty. They’d seen Dale aggravated before, had helped him clean out a couple of bars, watched him whip more than one ass all by himself.
Dale, “Best move along now, fore you dip more snuff than you can spit.”
He reaches for my arm, like he’s going to escort me to the parking lot. I let him almost grab it, snag his forefinger and dislocate it. I could have just throat clocked him and dragged him out, but I caught the scent of the type who likes trouble, who figures he can handle himself, and me, easily.
He curses, looks at his wrong way finger, pops it back into place, must have hurt like hell, but he did it.
He pulls back to punch me, fakes it and tries for the low kick to my knee. Not bad, I think. I stick the steel toe of my boot into the side of his kicking knee, and use the same foot to come down on the instep of his other foot. It cracks.
Dale reverts to the punch, I slip to the side and back fist his nose, blood drips. Half  Butt steps in to help, stupidly reaches for me just like Dale, I have the nunchucks out, wrap them around his elbow and squeeze. He tries to punch me with his free hand, but I’m in so close, chest to chest, the punch doesn’t mean anything. I head butt Half Butt, unwrap the nunchucks and start spinning.
Auto Body One and Auto Body Two grab a crowbar and a lead pipe and start towards me.
Nikko, “No, boys. Your problem is behind you.”
They both whirl around, surprised, but with weapons raised. Nikko spins her waist chain around, left, right, left, right, so blindingly fast it’s like she’s surrounded by propellers.
The ball bearing bangs AB One on the collarbone, craaack! Shoulder droops, he drops the crowbar, done being tough. If she’d hit him in the head, he’d be permanently done. AB Two takes a swipe with the pipe, more trying to keep the chain away than do any damage to Nikko.
“Take him out and let’s go.”
She introduces her ball bearing to his ribcage, crunch, while I introduce a nunchuck to Half Butt’s temple. He should start a church, The Temple of Half Butt. Well, maybe not, Temple of Butt Head?
I have Dale by the throat, owl claws only loose enough to give him minor air flow. Since I’d broken his foot, I have to drag him along. He puts his hands on my arm, tries to loosen himself, can’t grasp why he can’t break my grasp. He punches my side, I’d only had a few thousand kicks to exactly that spot. I barely notice. It aggravates Nikko though, she sticks a fist just below his sternum, he groans wheezing, her blade under his eyeball.
“Just come along, or just come along blind, bitch.”
He comes along. When we get to the van, I cut off his blood flow and he passes out. Don’t want him to know there’s a Janah or Amaya.

Chapter Sixty Three

We’re in an abandoned house off a country road down a dirt road. A quarter mile along said road we’d passed a Honda, two gentlemen enjoying coffee and doughnuts, they don’t acknowledge us. Minders. Earlier that day, they’d come down the country road, stopped, pulled a chain from the trunk and stretched it between two trees across the dirt road. They backtracked a hundred yards and waited for a phone call. When it came, one walked to the chain, took it down and walked back. Then they waited. When we turn on the dirt road, one of them puts the chain back up. Their job is to wait for another call to remove the chain. If anyone shows an interest in the chain and the dirt road, they are to dissuade the curiosity. They don’t know why, they don’t want to know why, paid well not to want to know why.
Nikko and I set up the halogen light, do our familiar, wire Fedders to a wooden chair, wrists clamped to the armrests, ankles to the front legs, belt around his waist, around the back of the chair. If he squirms, wire cuts into his skin. He will soon be squirming, we don’t care, we’d seen photos of his wife and child after one of his rampages.
Dale is blindfolded, in his skivvies. Amaya inserts the needle, attaches the Luer-Lok, tapes it to the back of his hand.
Fedders is awake, “What you doin’? What you stickin’ in my arm? What’s this about, goddammit. I don’t even know who you are. I find out, you are in for a heap of shit, lady.”
“Dale, Dale, Dale, you betta rekonize biyatch, exactly who is tied to a chair and who is roaming about the room freely, then decide who’s already in a heap of shit.”
Fedders yanks at the restraint, yelps, blood on his wrist.
“It’s picture wire dipshit, you want to bleed out, keep it up.”
Fedders surrenders, “Whachew wantin’?”
“A double shot cappuccino and you to be a better human being. I’m going to get both before too long.”
Fedders, “Fuckin’ crazy. Why me? I ain’t got no money.”
“Ah, Dale, but I do, lots actually, I was just discussing that with our investment manager, I’m loaded. But, to your question, why you? Well, I’ve seen photographs of your wife and child after you’ve asserted your manhood. I find that most objectionable, despicable actually.”
“I never hit no…”
Nikko cracks him on the side of his head with her knuckles, the ones covered in titanium inside her gloves.
“Yeah, you did Dale. And my friend has issues with abusers, redneck crackers and country music. You come in at one hundred percent of her issues. If I turn you over to her, they won’t find the body parts.”
Dale begins to see ugly possibilities, “You don’t want to do that, now. I can mend my ways. I can. I’m sorry for it, I felt like shit after, I really did. I can make it up to them, work it out.”
“And you will Dale. I’m going to help you, starting right now.”
Amaya pushes the plunger, Dale begins lift off, the booster rocket kicks in, Dale is on his way to Mars, maybe visit NASA’s Curiosity toy, two and a half billion dollars to discover Mars has rocks, most of which are old.
I take off the blindfold, strobe lights in his face left and right. No matter how he turns his head, all he can see is flashing, piercing light. He can shut his eyes, but the pulsing flashes will blink behind his eyelids. I stick Bose headphones on his head and soon he is meeting Satan herself, then Rob Zombie, tearing metal, hip hop bass so deep his cheeks pound to the beat. The LSD kicks in on top of the amphetamine, Amaya checks his pulse, one fifty, hope he’s got a stout heart.
Amaya, “He has more room in his heart rate.”
Janah, “Jack him up.”
She cranks him up to two hundred, he sweats, wets himself and screams.
“Two hundred, he’s not in hummingbird territory, their resting rate is two fifty, feeding rate is twelve hundred beats per minute. Of course, they only live three to four years, tradeoff to everything. Your heart beats a hundred thousand times a day. A hummingbird’s heart beats around seven hundred thousand times a day.”
Nikko, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I’m educating us while we wait for Dale to reboot.”
Amaya brings him down in tiny increments. Nikko pours water over him to wash off the pee. I reset the headphones to Janah’s voice scrambler, she sounds like a recorded voice on your cable company’s phone tree, all gooey pleasant while refusing to connect you to anyone who could help until you had entered your account number, password, mother’s maiden name, birthday, first dog, social security number, number of bowel movements you average each week and a pitch for more overpriced services, you know, that lady, the passive aggressive phone bitch.
Anyway, Janah is going through the first stage, Amaya listens closely, she is learning the interrogation format as well. It will shorten the time it takes to do more than one. Or allow for Janah and Amaya to switch off and take breaks without letting up on the target.
“Hello, Dale. How are you feeling?”
Fedders, “Wha? How’m I? I’m dizzy, my head hurts, wha…what???”
“Dale. I want to help you rest, to fix your head so it doesn’t hurt. To give you something to drink. Would you like that Dale?”
“Fuck, fuckin-A, I’m…I’m…”
“Dale, we have work to do before you can get my help. I need to you be cooperative, listen very carefully, follow my instructions.”
“Follow….I’ll follow…”
“I know you will Dale.”
Janah gets off the box, I return him to weirdness, she tells Amaya to drive him back up again.
You get the drift. Dale is up and down like a yo-yo, a rolling sea, a bungee jumper, a kid on a trampoline, 40D boobs on a hip hop video, the stock market, all the stuff that goes up and down a lot, that’s Dale.
About daybreak, she’d been at this for twelve hours, Amaya starts in with the anesthetics. Like sodium pentothal, anesthetics bring the patient to just groggy and compliant rather than unconscious. Janah is trying out Propofol, the Michael Jackson drug. It allows for quicker clearer recovery than pentothal, she likes efficiency.
This is suggestion time. I’m not going though all the conversation, it’s hours worth. Janah asks, Dale slowly begins answering. then downright chatty, Janah his new BFF, do they still use that acronym? I don’t tweet, I’m kind of out of it. Amaya might know, but she’s busy right now.
Suffice it to say that by noon, Dale has coughed up his version of ‘why.’
Janah was right in this case. Dale is carrying around sheer hatred for being wailed on as a kid. His father hit him, his mother hit him, everybody hit him. He’s afraid of bigger, stronger men and women, although he’s big and strong himself now, pointing to why he spends time in bar fights. That doesn’t alleviate his anger. His wife is like his mother, not that she hit her kid, but in other ways, tone and attitude. Dale keeps finding girlfriends, then his first wife, and now his second, that physically resemble his mother. It never occurs to him that he looks for them to take out his anger.
For us, it’s an exploration into the psychology of abuse, at least Dale’s version. Psychology is really neurochemistry. His brain made connections when he was young, those connections persisted and his ego, thought, which is only memory, reinforced them as he grew up. The stronger the emotion, the more persistent and vivid the memory. Maybe we should learn calculus while watching horror movies. Dale’s behavior reinforces his neuronal connections. A circle of fear and hate.
Janah adjusts his brain, tones down the amygdalae, boosts his frontal cortex. He will be significantly less reactive, and think about what to do before his emotions take over. It wouldn’t be perfect. What Janah does is either blunt force, removing a self entirely, or a guess about subtleties. Doesn’t matter. When he’s functional, I will implement the old tried and true method, explaining consequences.
Amaya has him back on Earth by dusk. Nikko calls the Minders and releases them. She and Amaya pack up the suitcase, then move the materials to the van, nothing left in the house but Dale in a chair and me. He had never seen Janah or Amaya, has no reason to believe they exist.
I unrestrain him, he’s exhausted, red eyed and stiff, I lack sympathy, “Dale, now you have a taste of what I can make your life like. Except, if I have to return, I’m not wasting all this time on drug therapy and talk. I’ll take you out permanently. There are millions of abusive assholes roaming the planet, I don’t have time to be nice but once. Yes, I consider this nice. You do not want to see ugly. Are we communicating?”
His head bobs slowly, it’s about all he can do for now.
“Good. I’m not above taking a finger or eye to leave you with a more permanent reminder. However, I’m counting on you to follow instructions. Are you listening?”
He bobs again.
“You can find your way out of here easy enough. The water works, clean up.”
“My foot…”
“Not my problem, drag your ass to the road or make a crutch. Now listen up, here comes that part that allows you options. To stay above ground, or to disappear forever, to live, or to die. You will not go home. The little bit you own will be given to your wife. You will not call, e-mail, snail mail or use smoke signals to contact either her or the child, ever, as in for-ever. If you do, I’ll know, and I’ll come for you. You may go to your place of business, load your truck with anything you want and drive. Drive for a long time, at least four states away in any direction, which excludes south unless you want to drive into the Gulf, and due east since there aren’t four states between here and the Atlantic. That leaves north or west. We will be in touch, don’t ever think you will be abandoned. That would be a terminal error.
Dale, “What’m I spose’d to do for money?”
“I’m an apathetic agnostic, I don’t know and I don’t care. If your truck runs out of gas, sell it and hitchhike. All I know is you better be four states from here by day after next. You have a job skill, you know how to make beat up cars well. You need to hit something, beat a fender back into shape. Don’t start feeding me crap, you can earn a living. After all, you won’t have to pay for a wife and child. Divorce papers will show up, you won’t even have to go to court. Wife gets sole custody, all the property, whatever it is.”
Dale, “You ain’t leavin’ me with much.”
“I’m leaving you alive, my friend wants to leave you in pieces, shall I ask her to come back?”
He shakes out a ‘no.’

Chapter Sixty Four

Mrs. Epstein, “Good trip. Fedders is in Nevada, he’s repairing cars, minding his manners. He’s aware we are monitoring.”
Janah, “The wife and child?”
“Have also relocated, to Florida. She has relatives there, got a job with one, clerical in a warehouse, honest work, weekdays, weekends off. The child is in school, a grade behind, we found a tutor.”
“Is he bullying?”
“Not so far. The mother’s contact told her to watch out for problems and shut them down quickly. She has access to counselors, we’ve done what we do. She caught a break, us finding out. We cut out the cancer, now she’s going to have to stand up and deal.”
We are having this conversation at the Epstein’s, Amaya is bringing in tea and refreshments. She plays the shamisen, sings. Mrs. E. tears up, it is quite beautiful, Amaya’s playing, her crystal voice.
Amaya, “She liked it, I am touched.”
“She is our other grandmother, sensitive with her grandchildren. It is our good fortune to have both Mrs. Fong and Mrs. Epstein.”

Amaya puts away her instrument, I notice Dr. Epstein studying her, then he looks over to me. He senses a connection, wonders if it’s real or his imagination.
As we are saying goodbyes, he takes my hand, leans to my ear, “Four as one?”
“Three as one, then two as one, for now.”
“Amazing.”
We have a car waiting, home in twenty.
Janah, “Dr. Epstein figured it out.”
Nikko, “Hanshi, Master Kim, Shaolin Masters, Psychiatry Masters. It’s getting impossible to keep a secret.”
We laugh, I say, “You have a point. Fortunately, we can trust them. How much does Hanshi know?”
“He understands that we communicate without talking. He doesn’t know about merging, seeing through each other’s eyes, hearing what the other hears. He hasn’t asked, I haven’t offered any explanation.”
Janah, “The less they know, the better. We’ve been careful and lucky, none of this has gotten out to people we don’t know. I want to keep it that way.”
“Better hope we don’t run across a Dark One with the time to examine us closely. So far, they’ve all been so busy trying to kill us, figuring us out hasn’t been on their radar.”
“I’ve considered that. There’s zip to do about it. We’ll deal with it if it arises.”
We’d shot the morning, Amaya working on the book, Nikko and I went at it at the dojang, lunch, then the Epstein’s for tea. It is pressing on six.
“We’re running behind a bit, I will help with dinner, what do I need to do?”
“Give them wine and light snacks, Sis is coming to the door now, wine for her and an Amaya kiss ought to tide her over. Then make a salad.”
Susan, “Nikko been beating up my daughter again?”
My lip is swollen, I have a limp and a bruised arm, my wrist tender.
“The recent retreat didn’t offer much of a physical challenge. Amaya and Janah did all the labor. I was ready for real contact. She didn’t get off lightly. She has nicely bruised ribs, or had, Janah’s been working on her, a few lesser bumps. We try not to do facial damage, maybe a split lip. Janah appreciates our superficials.”
Amaya, “Amaya appreciates your superficials, you are twice instructed.”
“See, all Masters, no students but me.”
Susan, “Yeah, yeah, I can see you’re suffering.”
“What have you been up to while we retreated?”
“Work, buried in work. I need you to do some things, crash a couple of systems, find holes, and make a few pretext calls to see how easily people give up their passwords.”
Amaya, “Let me do those. It is acting, my specialty. I bet I get half of them at least.”
Susan looks at Nikko, Nikko says, “She makes her own schedule now, all grown up.”
Susan, “There’s still a schedule on the wall.”
“I keep it up so they can plan their lives around my needs. It works really well.”
“Daphne teach you that?”
“Hey, don’t blame me, she’s sneaky all by herself. Like she said, she’s an actor, her job is to misdirect, create emotions, get people to believe. Things have to be scheduled around something. Everyone accommodates. She does it mostly to keep herself on schedule and to let Nikko know what she’s up to.”
Susan, “I’m out of wine, there must be a leak in my glass.”
Amaya pours, I start grilling flank steak, the stuffed potatoes are done and warming in the oven, Amaya makes salad. I take out tureens, fill them with onion soup, drop in croutons and cover the soup with a slice of mozzarella.
Soon everyone is sipping soup and twirling strings of mozzarella around their spoons.
Amaya, “God, Daph, this soup is so good, I am glad you thought of it.”
“I hadn’t made it in a while. I don’t know why not, just didn’t pop into my head, don’t know why it did now.”
Janah, “Last time you grilled flank steak you made onion soup.”
“Ah, I remember. Dang, that’s pretty slick J, I hadn’t put it together.”
The steak is done, charred nicely outside, red inside. Flank is lean and tasty, you have to cut it in strips against the grain. Since there’s not much fat, it’s tough any other way. There’s a gravy boat of au jus, horseradish on the side. Some like ketchup with flank, I like it with a ketchup blend with Japanese Kewpie mayo and a healthy dose of scorching horseradish. Kewpie is made with rice vinegar and isn’t so sweet as American mayo, it’s also deliciously creamier. I make my own horseradish, it’s simple, buy the root, peel it, grind it in food processor, wait five minutes and add vinegar. If you don’t want it that hot, add vinegar after a minute or two. Oils called isothiocyanate are released when horseradish is ground. Vinegar stops the reaction and stabilizes the flavor. Add two or three tablespoons of vinegar for each cup of horseradish, salt to taste.
We cover the strips with au jus, add it to the potatoes, I also have creamed spinach, one of J’s favorites. Amaya’s romaine, artichoke and vinaigrette salad accompanies.
Susan, “I love being killed with food, particularly my daughter’s, but I’m not against death by restaurant either.”
Nikko, “Daphne, you haven’t lost the Alva touch. Is there more flank, spinach?”
I take her plate, put a few more strips of steak and two spoons of spinach.
Janah, “While you have the spoon in your hand,” she sticks her plate out.
“The best compliment is a request for seconds. Thank you.”
Janah is working on the spinach, “What’s for dessert?”
Susan laughs, “She never loses that appetite.”
“Cheesecake, plain, or I have strawberry or cherry topping.”
Two strawberries, one cherry and two plain later, we are discussing whether a movie or Scrabble.
Susan, “I vote movie. I’m too full of goodies to think hard.”
“Movie it is. Amaya, show Sis where the choices are, I’m going to clean up.”
Nikko, “Nope, you made it, I’ll clean it.”
Janah, “Me, too. Go sit Daph.”
We watch Leonardo as J. Edgar Hoover, the slime ball. Amaya is on the couch wrapped up by Sis, Nishiko and I on either side of Janah on the mat.
“Quite the little demigod.”
Susan, “Gee. People were afraid of him, but he had his own skeletons in the closet, and apparently more than a few people know about them. I wonder why they didn’t out him and send him packing?”
Janah, “I suspect the thought that Presidents were afraid of him was overblown. My guess is they found it useful to have Hoover sneaking around in other people’s lives. Hoover get the evidence, they have leverage to coerce whoever needs coercing.”
“So Hoover might have been played as well as doing the playing?”
“I don’t see why not. In those days, if the President starts spreading the word the director of the FBI is gay, and has government employees doing his remodeling, it wouldn’t take any time for it to blow up all over Hoover. I think the string of Presidents and Hoover came to a nice one hand washes the other arrangement.”
Susan, “Nasty business,” she stretches, “I’m tired, I need to go home.”
“I’ll take a walk with you.”
“Daph, I’m a 5th degree black belt. I can probably make a couple of  blocks all by myself.”
“I’m certain of it. I’d like a walk anyway.”
We leave, I’m curious to know if she’d talked to Taylor, but I wasn’t going to ask.
I don’t have to, “Daphne, would it bother you if Taylor moved in?”
I smile, “With you or with us?”
She punches my arm, “I’ll take that as a no. She’s been around your place lately, have any thoughts?”
“Amaya likes Taylor, they have the Chapmans project, Taylor is a dozen years older, but in many ways, Amaya is more mature, maybe more grounded is a better word. She has us. Taylor was more at sea, not to mention the insecure world of modeling.”
“I like her company, I’m used to having someone there. My role has switched a little, Chris was self sufficient and looked out for me. Taylor isn’t, I do the looking out. But Chris was older than me, I’m older than Taylor. We get along, no fussing. The sex is good, she’s, um, enthusiastic.”
“And she’s hot.”
“That’s doesn’t hurt any.”
“Then do it. I was going to bring it up, I didn’t want you to feel like I was pushing the idea. Amaya asked, I said you would decide when you decided. I also said it wasn’t like you to leave Taylor hanging one way or the other. Glad to see I’m right.”
“I wouldn’t do that to her. She’s been just lovely. I may be presuming anyway. Maybe she wants to say at arm’s length, or even move on. I don’t want her to feel like I’m selling her the idea.”
“She’s not going to turn you down.”
“She said something?”
“To Amaya, with a promise we wouldn’t interfere. She wasn’t looking for us to go fish for clues.”
“Oh, I’m relieved. If she hadn’t wanted to, it would have been awkward for her to say no. I mean, I lost my companion, her friend as well. She might have felt obliged almost. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, but it isn’t the case, so ask her and make arrangements. You’ll probably see a fair amount of Amaya.”
“That’s a plus. Out of curiosity, are they….?”
“Nope. They flirt, it’s girlfriend play.  She’s happy the way things are.”
We’d been sitting on the stairs up to the condo, we stand, hug, “I’m happy for you, for me too. I think it’s great, I don’t like you being here alone.”
“Kara and James are here. I’d say don’t worry about me, but I like my daughters to worry about me, so go right ahead.”
She goes inside, I turn and reverse my course, home in a few minutes.
Janah, “I followed along.”
“What’s Amaya think? I felt her in my head, but didn’t gauge the reaction of either of you.”

Amaya, “Delighted. Taylor is my kind of play pal. We have fun.”

Chapter Sixty Five

Nikko and Amaya take a cab to Taylor’s to help pack for the move to Susan’s condo. She has clothes, shoes, toiletries and cosmetics. Most of the other things are either inexpensive or came with the apartment. Her roommates share the common furniture, she gives them the stuff in her bedroom.
Being alone with Janah is an advantage, I proceed to take advantage of her. She possesses numerous advantages, and I take them all. Then we merge for an hour, then a refreshed Janah does the most exquisite things, like I’m a tasting menu at a fine restaurant, the chef’s special selections. Janah’s idea of gourmet dining.
We aren’t done, I collect my supply of brushes, warm oil and ice, you can use your imagination. Think of warm lavender and cherry oil, a small brush, calligraphy and my tongue erasing one symbol and drawing another on particularly sensitive body parts. Janah explodes, several times. She appears to be happy.
Janah, gasping, “Okay, sheesh, we have to stop, I think my brain is bleeding. God that felt good…if you’d gotten any further up with that brush you’d be painting my vocal chords.”
She envelopes me, “I like girl sex.”
“It’s good to know yourself.”
Nikko and Amaya return, we emerge from the bedroom to fresh tea and cookies.
“Yum, thank you dear one,” I kiss Amaya.
“I need you fortified, I know you made Janah’s head spin. Yes, I followed the action while we packed. It made packing rather fun. Tonight, you have further nastiness to get up to. Experiencing your afternoon of lust has me lathered.”
“We can work something out, I recover quickly, particularly with something as inspiring as your Amayanosity to explore.”
“My perfection is yours to delight upon, bring the brushes.”

Nikko, “What is her holiness claiming now?”
“She wasn’t claiming anything, she was proclaiming her perfection, which I have defined as Amayanosity.”
“I’m becoming convinced that no amount of punishment is ever going to straighten you out. I should have seen it before now. You get worse so I’ll punish you more.”
“Took you long enough to catch on.”
“Caught up in enjoying my work.”
“As do I, your dominance.”

Nikko sneers unconvincingly, then a slight smile, she enjoys her sadistic side, as do I.
Amaya, “Daphne has made Nishiko smile. Mother does that when Daphne gets really goofy.”
Janah, “As opposed to everyday goofy?”
“Tea is served,” we gather around the low table.
I have a thought,  “Buddhists say that suffering isn’t only pain, physical or psychological, suffering is discontent. What’s wrong with discontent?”
Janah, “You mean that when we are content, we don’t really do very much, as in accomplish things.”
“Yes. It seems to me that discontent makes things happen. I’m hungry, I get food. Living on the street is no fun, people work to get a roof over their head.”
“Biological needs for a minimal level of nutrition or shelter are hardly discontent, except in the broadest sense.”
“Okay, I see that. So something not related to survival. I learn a skill, gung fu, but I am not satisfied that I am as good as I might be, so I work to get better.”
Amaya, “Yes. I write many lines before I decide to keep only a few. Not content with the first thing that pops into my head.”
Janah, “And does that kind of discontent cause you to suffer?”
“Perhaps in the short term, extra effort.”
“And how would you feel if you didn’t put in the extra effort?”
“Discontent.”
“So it’s a matter of degree. Short term, you can escape the effort of extra practice. Overall you are prolonging discontent, knowing what you have done can be improved with more effort.”
Amaya, “So discontent is a motivator, until it becomes interference.”
“Good way to put it. No emotion is bad or good, only the course of action taken as a consequence of the emotion is bad or good. Energy expenditure has a cost and a benefit. I think all anyone can do is find Buddha’s middle ground, which is different for each individual.”
“And we can examine our discontent, to see if it is legitimate, something we can do something about, or if it is thought spinning its wheels on something we cannot.”
We decide we are discontented enough to order pizza, a movie and bed. I remove Amaya’s sexual discontent, then she removes mine…..ahhhh. It is good to be me.

This is the end of Book VII





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