Chapter Sixty Five IV

My brain - it's my second favorite organ.
Woody Allen, Sleeper

Janah is in bed with Nikko, taking deliciously vulgar advantage. Chan in his room, probably moving around the furniture with his mind.
Black and I are in traffic, crawling to the hotel, I smile to myself, Black is driving. To get my mind out of the gutter, until I get back anyway, I ask about Sonia.
“Girl works too much. She’s got a caseload that would crack an elephant’s back. Fortunately, she’s got me to take care of the house, feed her, make her go for a relaxing run, then I help her unwind, you know, in other ways. She seems to be satisfied with the, uh, situation.”
“Oh, I know she’s satisfied. The things she tells Janah. She said the sheets beg for some relief, particularly on Sunday.”
Black, “Sunday is fun-day. During the week, by the time we get our three or four miles in, then fed, she’s crashed. But the weekend, now that’s another story. We go in for an entirely different kind of aerobics.”
“She’s so proud of you, the work you do for kids, training for free if they can’t afford it, taking time with them. I know she sends some of her case kids to you, they got no daddy, barely got a mom. She cries when she tells Janah how you listen to those children, how you teach them the art of martial arts, help them with homework, talk to their teachers. I got the goods on you big man. Takes a tough guy to be that tender.”
Black doesn’t say anything for a while, then, "I learned values from the Shaolin, talking with Janah, watching what Janah does for others, creating two free schools, supporting Chapmans, the temple, then running the temple. You two arranged for me to meet the love of my life, for Chan to meet his. Your family supported David abroad, then welcomed him home to study and teach. You protect innocents you don't even know, have no reason to care about. Put yourselves voluntarily in harm’s way, against ugly, ruthless people. Everything I am and everything I have came from showing up at the temple when you two happened to be there. I got an obligation. You and Janah don’t need anything from me, but those kids, out in Sonia’s world, well. That’s what Janah would want me to do, expect me to do. No way I’m letting her down. Not to mention, Sonia would have my ass if I did.”
I laugh, “She’s been a great friend to us, and the moms adore her. Sometimes I even have to take a backseat while Sis goes on about Sonia’s work and how you have been dad to a hundred kids. She eventually runs out of steam, then we can get back to focusing on me. Janah says it helps me learn patience.”
Black, “Uh huh. She spends half her time jumping you, is that what you call being ignored, lusted after by the hottest blonde on the planet?’
“Makes my point. She spends the other half jumping Nikko, and the third half helping people. I’m getting a mere one third of her time.”
Black, “I’m gonna have the time of my life explaining your logic to Mrs. Epstein.”
“Good, then she’ll take me out for lunch and buy me clothes. She’s sensitive that way.”
“It’s a real bitch being you, isn’t it?”
“I knew you’d understand,” my sly smile makes him laugh again.
Black drops me at the entrance, parks the car, he hangs outside for ten minutes, then up to his room to call Sonia and chill. He knew she wouldn’t answer. During his work with us, he leaves short cryptic messages about meditation and the dharma. She knows what he’s meditating on, and the dharma he would practice when he got home. That was their code. His fifteen second messages usually result in her taking a toy, similar to the size and shape of, well, you get the idea.
I take a long hot shower, refocusing bikers makes me feel like I’d slept in a Petri dish of slime mold. I dry my hair and slip into a t-shirt similar to Nishiko’s, just long enough by a whisper, knit socks almost cover two thirds of the way up long legs.
Janah orders room service, a pasta salad, grilled vegetables and two orders of grilled fish. A cheese platter to warm the appetite. Tonight, it doesn’t take much warming. We are ravenous, and have to leave early enough to get to L1, the drug lieutenant, let Nikko deal with him, then get on the road to New Orleans, a five hour drive.
Nikko, “I have an idea, cost only a little sleep. I’ll take Chan and we go tonight and finish our business here. L1 lives thirty minutes away at this time of night. Surveillance can let us know where he is. I can finish this and be back here before eleven.”
Janah calls Chan with Nikko’s plan, Chan says, “Car out front, ten minutes,” he hangs up.
Janah stares at the phone and giggles, Chan is a master of vocal restraint, “He’ll be outside in the car in ten. Get your stuff and do what you have to do. I’ll figure out how to keep Daphne from worrying too much.”
“I’m liking this plan.”
An hour later, Nikko is in a club on the west side of Houston, a dressed up warehouse, but at night it’s ear shattering music and flashing lights, X handed out like candy corn.
Chan enters the club, Nikko waits ten. He leans against the bar, surveying, sips a club soda. He has on his watch cap, a fake earring dangles from one ear, a henna kanji tattoo on his thick neck, just a Chinese astrological symbol of no particular meaning for him, year of the dragon.
His hands are too big for most gloves, so he uses Janah’s trick of latex stick-ons to mask fingerprints. His fingerprints aren’t on file anyplace, doesn’t seem smart to give the cops a reason to start one. He wears lightly tinted sunglasses in case there’s a video monitor. He doesn’t see one, that might mean it’s well placed.
Nikko enters, she has an earpiece, she can hear Chan without having to walk up to him, he’d only have to yell in her ear anyway.
“Target is in a private room, upstairs. He’s meeting with three of the bikers, there’s a bodyguard at the bottom of the stairs, and another at the top. I’ll take care of them and open the door. Follow me in, don’t concern yourself with the bikers. Call out L1, finish him, we go to hotel.”
Nikko, “Hai.”
The club is noisy with electronic music, screens of movies, music videos, and sex. She attracts almost no attention, despite the head scarf  and the fighting outfit. Her face is solid white, black eyeliner, black lipstick, no glasses; she wants her target to know she’s Japanese. It’s a dance club, lots of the crowd is stoned or amped, dress is always outrageous, Nikko actually fits in.
Chan starts up the steps, the downstairs bouncer lays a hand on his shoulder and shakes his head ‘no.’ Chan takes his wrist, twists, other hand on the man’s neck, he passes out. Chan eases him to the floor. He’s at the top of the stairs before the second bouncer has time to wonder how he’d gotten that far. This one is a boxer, quick hands, big man, going two thirty. A quick succession of punches, Chan acts as if he’s being slightly annoyed by gnats. On the next punch, he crushes the bouncer’s fist and takes out his knee with a short sidekick, throws him down the stairs to join his buddy, unconscious on the floor. Nikko is behind Chan as if she’d flown in.
He smashes the metal door, it bangs against the back of one of the bikers, knocks him forward. Nikko follows him into the room.
There’s a tall, slim Japanese man on a couch, two naked girls surround him; a pile of cash on one end of the coffee table, and various bags of pills and white powder on the other.
The bikers jump Chan en mass, one with a knife. Chan has his wrist and sticks the knife into the biker next to him, then cracks the knife wielder’s elbow and plunges the knife through his heart. Biker one slumps to the floor, biker two has a stab wound in his gut, Chan knocks him out with a short right cross.
The third biker draws down, but the Glock seems to be burning his hand, he yelps and drops it. Chan picks it up and smushes the barrel, flips it hard into the man’s stomach, the air rushes out of him and he’s butt first on the floor.
Chan, “Sit and say nothing. Do not move, do not breathe. If I hear you, you eat the gun. Nod if you understand.”
The biker nods, his mouth opens, Chan raised one finger, “Nothing,” the man’s jaw snaps shut. He stares at his gun between his legs, barrel impossibly crushed.
“Move, die. Sit, live.”
The two girls are screaming, doesn’t matter, the noise from outside is just more screaming, music and flashing light.
Nikko slams the door shut, “Shut up, stupid girls. You aren’t hurt, and you may yet live...if you do as you are told. I’m here to see him,” she points towards the man on the couch. He hasn’t moved, he does not display fear, more like curiosity.
“Sit and be silent, like the fool on the floor.”
The girls whimper, settle down. One starts to speak, Nikko catches her, “Silent means silent, idiot bitch.” she draws her katana, “I can make you silent forever if that is your preference.”
They’re shaking, quietly.
Nikko says to the Japanese, “A rogue ninja, a worm without honor. Still, I challenge you in the hope you have a shred of decency left. If so, I will kill you quickly, if not, then slowly.”
L1, “There is no honor in killing a girl. Go, and maybe I will let YOU live.”
Nikko swipes so quickly, the man doesn’t see or feel it when half of his necktie drops to his lap.
“Your katana is on the wall. I hope you have been training.”
The man takes off the remainder of his tie, opens his collar. He walks to the sword, “Daily.”
It slides from the sheath silently, and quickly, he turns into fighting stance, facing Nikko. He glances at Chan.
Nikko, “He will not interfere, it is a point of honor for him. Your only problem is me. Kill me and you are free to live, don’t, and you are free to die. Your freedom is guaranteed either way.”
The battle begins, steel against steel, the vibrations echo off the walls. Nikko is getting a feel for his ability. He is formidable, but it had clearly been a long time since he had used the katana against one with skill. Practicing kata, chopping stalks of bamboo, are fine as far as they go. But neither the air, nor the bamboo fights back. And this is the vital part the man had only occasionally practiced; perhaps with the one Nikko had taken earlier. He had the speed of youth, but no real sense of the blade. It had been merely a weapon to intimidate, not an extension of his being.
Nikko blocks and parries with the second, she dances into him, pops his head with the handle of her sword, moves forward, always forward. The man begins to realize. And this realization causes him to do for himself, what Nikko is going to do to him in a matter of moments. He drops his katana, kneels, and unsheathes the short sword.
“Would you honor me in the face of my dishonor?”
Nikko moves behind the kneeling man. He rips open his shirt, points the short blade to his own abdomen, there is a moment of nothing, he shoves it in deeply in his gut, then a sharp cut sideways. Nikko raises her katana and with a movement so swift even Chan has trouble following it, removes his head.
The head falls forward, the body slumps over it.
Nikko says to no one in particular, “He died with dignity, that’s something.”
The two naked girls on the couch are shaking, shielding their eyes from the carnage. The noise from downstairs pulsing, the crowd, filled with coke, meth and ecstasy, barely notice the two bouncers on the floor. The few who did and weren’t so far gone as to think it an hallucination, had long since disappeared into the night. A lot of cop questions about a fight in a club isn’t in their party plan.
Chan spots a door, turns the handle, no need to break anything, it’s open. It leads to a staircase and a rear exit. Nikko and Chan are back in the car, then the hotel. By quarter to eleven, she’s showering, then in bed curled up against Janah, me already asleep on the other side.
Janah, “Need anything, you look fine.”
“Brother took care of the interference, one biker killed, the lieutenant died by his own hand. He surrendered and committed seppuku. I took his head, as is the formal way, but he ended his own life.”
Janah, “So, in the end, you allowed him to die honorably.”
Nikko says nothing, lays a long leg over Janah’s, kisses her neck, Janah smiles in the darkness, the two join me in sleep.

Chapter Sixty Six IV

Louisiana long ago turned bullshit into an art form…
a bad one, like a starving artists show, or Lady Gaga video. 
If the Mississippi River is the digestive tract of the United States,
that makes the stretch from Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico
the lower bowel and the asshole. The average intestine is cleaner.
Food's excellent in New Orleans though. 
Anonymous


The drive to New Orleans from Houston is about as uninteresting as any three hundred fifty mile stretch of interstate in the country. First, there’s the slum of Beaumont, Texas then the slum of Lake Charles, Louisiana, then the slum of Lafayette, the sclerotic heart of Cajun country. Then a stretch of swamp, then Baton Rouge, the state capitol; misnamed, it should have been Baton Rogue, between the coonass liars in the legislature and the oil company liars who own them, and the liars that go to LSU, Lying State University, it’s fair to assume everyone is handing you a line of crap. You’d be right far more than wrong.
The drug lieutenant actually lives in a suburb of the Crapitol City, maybe the only pure Japanese in the entire state. There isn’t much in the way of fancy in Baton Rouge, he lives in a thirty eight hundred square foot house in a gated ‘community’ called Country Club of Louisiana. It’s a swath of overpriced houses, particularly overpriced since Katrina drove half the population out of New Orleans. Country Club is on the south end of the town, right on the interstate. People can drive down to Saints games and hang out at Jazz Fest in under ninety minutes. Most people who live here are up to their necks in mortgages, faux riche on borrowed money.
L3 likes it. He lives quietly, gets to fuck some of the better looking housewives whose husbands are out all day playing lawyer, or oil company engineer while their wives suck what they think of as exotic Asian cock. The rest of the time, he plays golf, a Japanese addiction. Twice a month, in the late evening, he drives down I-10 thirteen miles, to another forgettable city called Gonzales. There, he swaps drugs for money. Once a month, he delivers cash to the Capo’s place in the French Quarter and picks up fresh product.
Chan waits with Nikko in a coffee shop near the subdivision.  Janah, Black and I drive to New Orleans, switch cars in a suburban mall and check in to the Royal Sonesta. The room keys are in the car. Black drops us off on Bourbon Street, in front of the hotel, he drives around the corner to the hotel’s underground self park. We’re in our room as he walks in the back entrance and goes to his. You don’t want a room overlooking Bourbon, unless you want to be up all night, or show your tits to drunks on the street from one of the balconies. We have no interest in either, so our suite is on top of the two rooms occupied by Black and Chan, facing the interior of the hotel.
Black naps, it may be a long night. Janah and I walk the Quarter for a while, I eat a dozen raw oysters at Dickie Brennan’s. Janah found something called red bean hummus with feta and bannock, a flatbread, served as an appetizer, and spinach salad with pecan molasses vinaigrette.
I taste the hummus and a bite of salad, “Dang, that’s good. I have to make that at home. If we don’t accomplish anything else, I’ll get some recipes.”
(During the our drive to NO, Chan and Nikko are at Country Club)
Nikko, “Drive to the gate and ask the guard for directions to Lafayette, use that fake Chinese accent. He’ll think you’re totally lost, may even give you the wrong directions just to screw with you. Nod and smile idiotically, I’ll get past him and take care of our business.”
Chan, “How you get out, Chan no asky dilections two time?”
Nikko smiles, “Not bad. Go the service station down the block, get gas, buy some crap food, go through the car wash. If I’m not at the little strip mall, then drive up this road for ten minutes, then drive back to the strip mall. If I’m still not there, deal with the guard, then come and get my body. I can face death, but not being left in this armpit subdivision.”
It takes her under ten minutes to walk to the house, two more to break in the back entrance. She uses a shuriken to anesthetize a grumpy Rottweiler, but the growling at least got the owner to come into the kitchen.
Lieutenant 3 looks puzzled, not shocked, a woman calls from upstairs, “What is it? That godamn dog is a pain in the ass.”
She shows up, tucking her shirt into tight jeans. Pretty woman, nearing forty, she’s not low mileage, must be high maintenance. A lawyer’s wife, he works downtown, plays golf, occasionally with the Japanese man.
Hubby is busy being self important, so it never occurs to him his wife would be doing much but getting spa treatments. She’s getting treatments all right, not only from the exotic Japanese, but from the black stud who services more than her Mercedes.
When she isn’t busy getting drilled at home, she goes to Pilates. Her instructor keeps her finely tuned, with special private classes after class.
She sees Nikko in her headscarf, work outfit and white face, a henna tattoo of a dragon on her cheek.
The woman is pretty cool, “Wow, nice get up. Is she here for a threesome, I can play for another hour.”
Nikko, “I’m his kendo instructor.”
L3, “That’s right, I forgot to tell you, I’m taking kendo lessons, a tie to the old country. I’ll see you next week if you’re available.”
The woman smiles, “I’ll bring the caviar,” she likes to spoon caviar on his hard cock and lick it off, followed by a slug of champagne, rinse and repeat.
She walks out the way Nikko came in, notices the dog, “First time I’ve ever seen that beast asleep with visitors in the house.”
Nikko, “I have a way with animals,” she looks at the Japanese, “all kinds of animals.”
The woman sees Nishiko’s eyes, black, void, a chill numbs her spine, she leaves without a word, brain suddenly in a haze.
Nikko, “Lesson time, ninja dog.”
L3 smiles, “Mind telling me who sent you, or do I have to make you tell me with pain?”
Nikko ignores the question, “You practice in an empty room down the hall, your katana is there. Let’s do this.”
L3 walks ahead of her, “You inconvenience me. I’ll have to dispose of your body, make a bloody mess of you. I’ll kill you quick anyway, less blood. There’s swamp from here to New Orleans, you’ll be gator food before anyone knows you’re gone.”
Nikko, “Then it won’t be a problem.”
He’d misses her meaning, “A minor inconvenience. You can save yourself trouble by telling me who hired you.”
“Nobody. You are a disgrace to a noble tradition, I am conducting your exit interview.”
He takes his sword off the stand, a double stand, the sword is not in the shirasaya,  which is displayed under the katana itself. He faces Nikko, the sword raised in the traditional starting position, he does not bow.
She places her weapon against his, gleaming steel against steel, an X between them.
The man moves forward, slices down, hoping for a quick end, she is only a girl, built like a stick. Surely the weight of his strike would cut through her shoulder.
But she isn’t there, instead she’s alongside him, his sword sailed through nothing. They step in a circle, face each other, Nikko cuts him across the chest, not deeply, to get his attention.
His eyes narrow, this one is different, her eyes, those damned dead eyes. He tries an upstroke, her blade catches his waist high, then in a flash sliced across the cheek.
L3, “You have speed, but not the courage to kill.”
Nikko’s blade slashes his arm, deeper this time, his blood soaks his sleeve, blood oozes down his cheek, his left triceps is cut nearly to the bone.
He steps back to gather himself. It is dawning on him, she is playing around. It angers and astonishes him, he knows no one with her skill.
“Who are you? Your katana is from the old country, what’s a young woman doing with such a weapon? Who trained you?”
It doesn’t matter to Nikko to tell him, he isn’t going to be sentient more than another minute, “My Master is Soichi Murakami.”
L3’s eyes widen, “From Kyoto?”
Nikko nods.
L3, “That’s not possible, he would never train an American, not even a Japanese American, and certainly not a girl.”
Nikko, “He made an exception for his daughter.”
L3 tries to bluff his way through, but his quavering voice betrays him, “When I am done killing you, I will go and kill him. You have murdered your own father.”
Nikko smiles, it isn’t a smile like any L3 had ever seen, it’s the smile Death uses to introduce herself.
The man lunges, his sword misses his target, his body bangs up against Nikko, he thought he might at least drive her backwards and to the ground. Nikko twists when his body rams her, his shoulder hits hers, nothing more.
He stumbles forward, catches himself and turns, raising his katana with his one working arm. Her sword shoots through his heart, his drops to the floor, Nikko withdraws her blade. He follows his katana, face forward and still.
She finds bleach in the laundry room, cleans the katana on freshly laundered towels, moves silently out the back door and down the street. She walks past the guard shack, the man is flat on the floor inside, unconscious. She gets in the car and Chan takes a right, another right to I-10. They switch cars in the same mall we did and drive to the Sonesta. Chan lets Nikko out, he circles the block, down the ramp and parks.
In his room, from his throwaway phone, he calls another throwaway, Ning answers, Chan says only, “We are meditating, all is well.”
Ning, “The children are asleep.”
They disconnect, the call lasts ten seconds. Ning understands there are no injuries, Chan understands nothing unusual is going on at home. It’s approaching nine thirty. Janah is thinking about the next targets.

Chapter Sixty Seven IV

We have L4, and the bikers to deal with. L4 is easier, he lives in the French Quarter and tends to party hard. Nikko could slice and dice him without breaking a sweat. Janah has other plans for him.
I order room service, which in the Sonesta means good. We have a spread of:
appetizers - hummus, baba ghanoush, lebne, pita, olives.
Two types of sandwiches, roasted portobello panini, spinach, peppers, goat cheese, ciabatta and large plates of pan seared Red Fish, lump crabmeat, asparagus, Brabant potatoes. Beurre Mèuniere and angel hair pasta with grilled shrimp.
For dessert, bread pudding, chocolate pecan pie, vanilla bean crème brûlé, an-duh, two orders of Praline Cheesecake.
Three room service waiters appear in our split level suite, bring in an additional table. Janah opens the door to the outside balcony, which faces the interior pool area below. When the waiters leave, Black and Chan appear and we sit down to feast.
We pass plates and try everything, Janah of course sticks to the vegetarian items, the rest divided up among us. The conversation is limited to food as we enjoy one remarkable dish after another.
As we share dessert tastes, Black says what everyone else is thinking, “Man, if this is room service, what are the regular restaurants like?”
Janah, “I’ve been on the net for two hours going over menus. Daphne and I had a late lunch at a place around the corner, it is splendid, red bean hummus, who’da thought?”
“I had a dozen oysters, big, cold salty fresh oysters for half what they cost at the oyster bar in Grand Central. It would take us two months to work our way through town. Janah had a salad with pecan molasses vinaigrette dressing. I can’t wait to make it for the moms. I was raving to the waitress, they have this French bread called Leidenheimer’s, only made in New Orleans by some zillion year old German family. It’s dream bread. Light as a feather inside and crunchy crispy thin crust. I must have buttered up a whole loaf.”
Janah laughs, “The waitress said, 'looks like a New Orleans convert, this girl here.' Daphne told her, ‘I’m eating and I’m not even hungry.’”
“The waitress said, ‘honey, my momma says you don’t eat ‘cause you hungry, you eat ‘cause it tastes good.’ My new lifestyle guide.”
Nikko, cuts off a chunk of chocolate pecan pie, “What a pig I am. God, this is as good as Daphne’s stuff.”
Janah, “Why don’t we just make an annual pilgrimage, maybe we’ll bring along the moms? We can come for vacation, we don’t have to be here just for Social Work.”
Black, “When I start raving the food Sonia will demand a trip. Count me in, baby, these people know what to do with seafood. Got some kind of  voodoo cuisine going on in this town.”
Janah, “We deal with L4 tomorrow morning. He’ll be simple enough, but I want Nikko out of this one. She’s taken three, he’ll likely gotten word by now and will be on the lookout. Since he’ll know how they were killed, we can assume he’s on guard for the same thing. He won’t be looking for Chan and Black, he’ll be looking for a female samurai.”
She maps out the directions to and the layout of the house, her instructions are simple, “Nikko killed in a fair fight, acceptable. This one is not to be killed unless there is no choice, he points a gun, he dies.”
She tells Chan, “Vaporize his memory, take his phone, any computers, credit cards, any papers you deem important. We’re going to make the bulk of his bank accounts vanish like the other ones, any weapons will disappear. He won’t have but a thousand dollars and you will leave behind this account statement, one for a bank he will believe he’s been doing his meager checking with all along. He’ll be working as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. It’s all arranged. Here’s the name of the restaurant and the address of his new apartment in the Treme district. His French Quarter place will be listed under a different name, sold and the proceeds will go to the Society.”
Black, “Have they moved the assets of the others, the ones in Houston?”
“And the one Nikko dispensed with in Baton Rouge. Records have already been altered to show he was renting the house, did not own it. The mystery owner will sell it and that money, along with the two million he had in his account. To the extent we know some of the extorted, they will be compensated. We know the places they hit and can guesstimate what’s paid. It won’t be full restitution, they spend a fair amount and the money is split so many ways in the first place. If we can get to the Capos’ and the boss, there will be more cash to return. The people who bought drugs and escorts got something for their money, the extorted got nothing.”
Black, “Cool.”
Nikko, “And the extortion bikers?”
“If things hold true to form, Black and Chan will find two of them at L4’s place. You, Janah and I will deal with the rest, eight more, shouldn’t be a problem.”
Nikko, “I thought there were a dozen members in a gang?”
 “Not this one, just ten in the core. Some hanger’s on, but not directly in the extortion racket. Just blowhard biker boys, drinking buddies, hoping to get into the action, but not quite sure what the action is. No reason to screw with them.”
Black, “I got to get some rest, Chan will be up at the crack of dawn, he can ring me when he’s ready. I presume there’s not much reason to go see this dude before nine.”
Janah, “The bikers generally show around noon. That will give Chan three hours to rearrange L4’s mind, just wait around for the bikers. They’ll be bringing money, take it. When you leave, an elderly gentleman will approach and ask if he can be of assistance. Hand him the bag and say, ‘this is a donation.’ He’ll take it, get into a waiting car and go away. You two find a place for lunch, I recommend Galatoire’s, just down the street. Wear sport coats and nice slacks, be hungry. Take a walk around the Quarter, then back to the hotel and rest. If for any reason either of you is injured, call me.”
Black, “It’s a plan. Where you guys have to go?”
“Surveillance says there’s only one pickup tomorrow. Place out in the suburbs, Kenner. Opens for breakfast and lunch, then closes around two or two thirty. Four biker’s usually show about three, ride to the back alley, meet the owner, collect and leave. He’s got a fourteen year old daughter. She got raped one night. The bikers said they could guarantee no further problems if he paid regularly. Or his daughter could get turned out for the money if he didn’t come across. He pays.”
Nikko, “Not anymore.”
Black, “And the others?”
“We’re going to visit them right after we deal with the first four.”

Chapter Sixty Eight IV

Seiryoku zenyo (putting your energy to work most effectively)
Nikko’s formula for living.


When L4 gets out of the shower, he dries off, combs back his black hair and walks into his bedroom in a long terrycloth robe.
He sees a large Chinese man sitting in a chair across from his bed, he starts, then his mind is blank. He sits on the edge of his bed, facing the Chinese. There is another man leaning on his dresser, the biggest black man he has ever seen and will never remember.
Over the next two hours, Chan erases his brain. Then he patiently downloads an entirely new personality, quiet, self effacing, humble. L4 will have no memory of  ever being anything but a dishwasher at a local restaurant. Chan sits silently, cross legged, his eyes closed. He is transmitting brain to brain.
While Chan works mentally, black works physically. He takes everything that references a former life, stacks it, wipes the place clean. Later, Society Cleaners will come in and haul it away.
Chan gives him a burr haircut, tells him to go to an address, a tiny apartment in the Treme district, gives him a key. The apartment is set up with identification, old bank statements, used dishes, stuff in the refrigerator, clothing befitting his new station in life. He’ll ride an old bicycle to work, store it in his apartment, a shotgun place, typical of old new Orleans architecture. It’s shabby, but serviceable. His neighbors are a somewhat dotty elderly couple who will be moving soon to an elder care home, employees of the Society, hired to play the role. They’ll talk to him as if he’d lived there for years, recall things he’d done and said, reinforce the memories Chan inserted. If something goes wrong, the old couple will let the Society know.
Chan takes him outside, gives him a key to unlock a bicycle chained to a parking meter and watches him ride away, oblivious. Back inside, he and Black sit silently, waiting for bikers.
At twelve fifteen, a roar of motorcycles in the courtyard. They barge in the back entrance like they own the place, used to it being open on delivery day. L4 didn’t want long visits. Just count the take and get them out of his life for another two weeks.
To their left, a black dude leans on the doorjamb that leads to the dining room. The top of his head is at the top of the door. They turn and see a Chinese guy that filled most of the space covered by the double doors .
Black, “Put the bag down, Jake.”
Jake, “I don’t know you, how you know me?”
Black, “Lucky guess,” the man’s name is tattooed across his knuckles.
Black looks at the second one, “You got a name, or shall I just use asshole?”
Asshole says, “Fuck you want man? Where’s the guy who lives here, what you doin’ up in here anyway?”
Black, “I’ll answer your questions in order. I want to be home with my woman, making her something special for dinner. Your associate isn’t here, he’s opted for a new career, won't see him anymore. Answer three folds in with answer two, you can leave the money and ride away…after you pay for raping the girl. Gotta get out of the extortion business too.”
Jake isn’t the brightest bulb on the tree, he says to Asshole, “Fuck’s he talkin’ bout?”
Asshole, “They’re screwed,” he reaches behind his back to grab a nine, just as Chan snaps his neck. He falls forward, his head smacks the floor with his face sideways, eyes still open, deader than a Scientologist’s mind.
Jake doesn’t have a gun, he has knife out, “One of you fucks is going to get cut, cut real bad.”
Black steps up to the waving knife and hits Jake so hard his sternum cracks and stops his heart instantly. The knife clatters to the floor. Jake falls backwards like a chain-sawed pine tree.
Black, “Wasn’t much of a workout,” then he realizes Chan had far more of a workout than he did. Two hours of rearranging L4’s brain is physically and mentally exhausting, “Sheesh, I completely forgot about the thing with L4. Let’s get out of here and to the hotel. You need some food and rest. I’ll take care of the food. Just get to your room.”
An hour later, they’d gone through two big poorboys, shrimp and oyster. Black picked them up from Dickie Brennan’s, close to the hotel and as well made as you could find in the Quarter. Chan immediately crashes. Black to his room next door, lays on the bed digesting and nods off.
At three we meet with Black, “All done, went fine. There’s a Capo lives here isn’t there? What about him?”
Janah, “We’re dealing with the Capos and the Boss differently, the Society has plans underway. We have until tomorrow off, none of us drinks enough to do Bourbon Street. Tonight we’ll go to Galatoire’s, right up the block.”
At six, we’re standing in the line out front, Galatoire’s doesn’t take reservations. Fortunately, we aren’t here during an event, it’s a weeknight, the wait is only half an hour.
Then we’re having incredible turtle soup with sherry and seafood okra gumbo. A foot long strip of fresh fish almandine with rich dark Muniere sauce and filet béarnaise, Janah has a grilled vegetable platter, we share sautéed Portobello mushrooms, fried onion rings and creamed spinach. Dessert is sweet potato cheesecake and more bread pudding. Wonderful.
Nikko, “That was incredible, I may understate.”
Black, “Maybe I start a Shaolin Temple in New Orleans. Or maybe not, hard to get the monks to stay vegetarian in this town.”
“They only have to veg while they’re in the temple. Be a good excuse for us to come down and visit.”
Chan, “Ning and I will make a trip with Black and Sonia. Ning will love the unique tastes and textures of the seafood. Maybe in the fall.”
Looks like New Orleans has picked up more enthusiastic fans. Do yourself a favor, go. Go when there’s no big event, no Mardi Gras, no jazz Fest, no Sugar Bowl. Just find a few favorite food places, listen to jazz, walk the French Quarter. The people are friendly, prices are reasonable, if you like your beer and whiskey, it’s cheap and you can carry your cocktail right down the street.
I know, I trashed Louisiana in general, which is not exactly true, Louisiana trashed itself, I just reported. New Orleans, it can be said, is not really Louisiana, not representative of the rest of the absurdly conservative state.. While hardly cosmopolitan, it’s freewheeling and laid back, not for nothing called Big Easy.


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