They land at Teterboro, a smaller New Jersey field, at two thirty. Katja collects the car, a plain black Tahoe, drives them to Hotel on Rivington on the lower east side. Two bedroom terrace suite, huge space for Manhattan. The terrace alone is nine hundred square feet, bigger than most one bedroom apartments in Manhattan.
Mani, “Nice place, geez, look at this terrace, glad it’s spring not winter,” she looks out on the city, “New York is gigantic.”
Ellen, “What I said first time. I was a gawking tourist, staring up at all the skyscrapers. We going to the Russian Tea Room again?”
Katya, “Maybe, if job goes well. First we go to target’s house. If the case is why we were hired, they must figure no witness, no case.”
Ellen, “How’d he get on to the councilman?”
“Worked for him, an aide of some sort. Story is developers bribed councilman to have zoning restrictions lifted, the witness was there when the money was paid.
Why he turned on his boss is not clear.”
Ellen, “Don’t these guys get bribed all the time?”
“Yes, campaign contributions are just legalized bribes, give jobs to friends or relatives of politician, sometimes something less obvious than a briefcase full of hundreds.”
Unpacked, they retrieve the car, change the license plate to one from Texas, and drive across the bridge to Brooklyn. They lift license plates for obvious reasons, in case an alert citizen copies their plate, or it gets photo’d on CCTV. Despite renting the cars in fake names, they do have to turn in the rental. That’s a vulnerable moment if the cops have the rental plate and are looking for the renters. They will return home from this job with a few New York plates.
The target lives in a brownstone apartment in Prospect Heights, one of the four dozen neighborhood designations in the borough.
Ellen, “Gonna be tough to break in, looks like a street job. He have protection? A cop?”
“Apparently not the kind of case they think needs protection. He is not informing on a gang, or the mafia. Councilman says it did not happen, witness has political motive. Nobody says what political motive.”
Katja, “Which means it might be personal, not political.”
“Gay, guess the councilman wanted to demonstrate diversity.”
“Councilman ees also gay.”
Ellen laughs, “Where’s the diversity, the black guy, the woman, and the fourth kind?”
Mani, “What fourth kind?”
Mani giggles, “Politically incorrect.”
“Yeah, I guess, but you gotta have a bunch of staff all over the race and gender lot to be seen as inclusive. In Texas, it’s the opposite, politician can only have white people and maybe one Mexican, depending on how many Hispanic voters there are in his district. It’s all scientific now, how they figure out who to pander to.”
Katja, “You haf become expert lesbian in political persons?”
Ellen, “Naw, I make it up as I go along, seems logical though. In Texas, you best not have staff appearances that include blacks, Indians, Muslims, nothing brown, except the token Mexican. Up here, it’s just the opposite, too many white people on board, even the white people won’t vote for you.”
Katja, “Politic ees too complicate, ees anyway all bullshitting.”
“Here’s the apartment. We know anything about the boyfriend?”
Katya, “Nyet, we have a picture, standing near target in one of the photos.”
Ellen surfs the phone, “Yeah, I see him. Nice enough looking couple, slim, boyfriend has a moustache, ugly things. Who wants to kiss hair? We don’t even have it on our pretty puskets.”
Katja, “Target ees coming down block.”
And so he is, looks political, apparently politicians haven’t gotten the casual message. As usual, out of step with the rest of the country. Not necessarily a bad thing, if you’ve ever been witnessed the horror of Wal-Mart shoppers or airline passengers in coach, you know what I mean. There’s dressed up, casual, and nasty. Lots of people have sunk to nasty.
Katya, “Mani, approach him and ask for directions, Ellen, resolve conflict.”
They hop out, the target is a half block from the steps to his front door. Ellen goes across the street, jacket draped over the Glock. Mani approaches. She shifts to broken English mode.
“Sir, sir, you live here, in America New York? I am to meet …ummm.. relative, how you say….aunt….no can find.”
“Where, what place?”
“Shop, for..,” she’s blank, makes a drinking motion with her hand.
“A bar, no you’re too young….coffee?”
Mani brightens, starts to nod yes while stepping backwards, Ellen pulls the trigger. Target falls forward, Mani is to his right side. The casing plinks to the concrete, Ellen scoops it up and pockets it. The bullet stays in his head, no spatter. They do the half block to the Tahoe, Katja pulls away.
Mani, “How wonderful. I got to do my fakey Asian accent.”
Ellen, “You did great baby girl. He had no idea of me, block was empty.”
Katya, “Two people turned far corner behind us. I doubt they figured out what happened, the gun is silenced and the license plate, even if they saw it, is from Texas. Need to swap it back to the rental plate.”
Once in Manhattan, Katja finds an empty alley, backs the SUV in, Katya hops out and does the switch. Texas plate goes to the bottom of a rank smelling dumpster. Even the homeless aren’t going to fish around in that nastiness.
In the room, Katya, “What luck. No long surveillance, no obvious witness, maybe somebody looks out of window.”
Ellen, “They didn’t see a gun, I had the jacket to the end of the barrel, shot him at the base of his neck angled up. He brain is mush with that hollow point in it. No exit wound.”
Katja, “And just in time for cocktail. Hotel haf bar next to restaurant.”
Ellen, “I want to shower and get into something better than jeans and sneakers.”
Forty five later, they’re in The Lounge, originality is not it’s strong point. It is well appointed and has vodka, no Russian Standard, it’s an imperfect world.
Bartender does the required check, the girls hardly pass for twenty one, but their ID says they are, he’s covered. They order vodka shaken with crushed ice then strained, the place doesn’t keep it in the freezer.
A quiet toast, “nasmert!'' (to death)
Three drinks later, they’re on the street. The restaurant in the hotel looked rather tame with a mish-mash menu trying to be eclectic. Walking around, they come across Les Halles.
Short wait to be seated, then order appetizers. Escargot, pâté, and deviled eggs with black truffles.
Mani, “Sheesh, Thai girl from Mississippi in New York eating escargot and pâté.”
Katja, “You are liking?”
Mani, “I kind of have to, I’m taking French after all.”
Ellen, “So far so good, this pâté is tasty, I gotta add it to our tea menu at home.”
Entrees of scallops with artichoke barigoule (artichokes braised with onions, garlic and carrots in a seasoned broth of wine and water) in champagne cream sauce.
Two filets with Béarnaise, one steak au poivre, coated with cracked peppercorn, sides of truffle fries and haricots verts, fancy name for French green beans, longer and thinner than the American variety. Cabernet accompanies.
Dessert is an easy choice, profiteroles, cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream,
Topped with chocolate sauce. They share two orders and a bottle of Taittinger Prestige Rosé Brut champagne.
Katja, “How ees pronounce? Can’t be tat-in-jer.”
Mani, “No, tah-taun-jay, no r at the end.”
“I am remembering, ees good.”
A quick kill and lusty dinner brings makes for a passionate evening. They play swap the girl on the terrace, then Katja and Katya strap up and tease with the tips, then supercharge sensual sentience in Ellen and Mani.
Ellen is kissing Katja, Mani lies crosswise at the end of the bed mumbling incoherently in Thai.
Ellen is online having coffee in the sitting room when Katya comes in. She pours tea and joins Ellen at the table.
Ellen, “Made the news of course. No mention of witnesses, but they may be keeping that quiet.”
“What does it say?”
“Jason Marceau, former aide to New York City councilman Darren Wilkins, found shot a few steps from his Prospect Heights home. Robbery does not appear to be the motive. It goes on to mention the rift between the two, Marceau due to testify in a bribery case next month. Wilkins has no comment other than decrying street violence. He refused to answer questions about upcoming grand jury hearings. It talks a bit about Marceau’s partner, a sometimes actor, photo of him boohooing.”
Katya, “Anything distinctive about the SUV? Other than the license plate?”
“I taped over the rental agency sticker, black like the car. There was nothing that stood out in the dark tint windows. It’s a nice car, but looks like a million others.
We were head scarved, big sunglasses, I wore latex gloves, but neither of us touched anything. I got the cartridge casing, pitched it down a drain. There’s nothing, even if they caught it on CCTV. And even if they had something on the SUV, it’s rented in the name of a woman who doesn’t exist. If there’s a problem, it will show up at the airport when we return the car. But it would be a miracle to connect the Tahoe at the scene with the one returned.”
Katja comes along, “We are good?”
Katya, “Da, nothing, usual news babble. Do you want to stay a couple more days?”
“Let Ellen take Mani around town, and Ellen, hire a car, don’t use SUV, let it sit in parking lot until we go home. I am for staying in room, not fight way around city all day. New York ees impress wiz New York, but Katja ees not impress wiz New York.”
Ellen, “I need to clean the Glock.”
Katya, “ I will do it. When Mani is up, get dressed and go for a ride, 5th Avenue, Central Park, find spot for lunch, driver will wait, come back for tea. We will figure out dinner place. Tomorrow home, enough New York.”
Ellen, “You don’t want to do the Russian Tea Room?”
“Nyet, you make Beluga blini and beef stroganoff at home just as good.”
“Aw, that’s so sweet. I’ll make it first day back, well, not the travel day, day after. I’ll just let Mani see the city from the comfort of the car, I’m sure the driver can make up stories and hit the common sights. Lemme get something arranged.”
An hour later, she and Mani are off for a ride around Manhattan. Katya is online looking at sales numbers for the donut shops and their commercial property. One of the shops is in a building they own, along with a dry cleaners and a martial arts school. Revenue from the two leases paid the mortgage. Then they stole millions from the drug operation so Katya paid it off . Cash flow from rent just piles up in an account for Katya Donut, pretty much untouched except for the odd repair and maintenance.
They walk to Chinatown for lunch, find a busy place as the best guess for quality.
Katja, “Lots of Chinese persons eating, must be okay place.”
Over hot and sour soup and Szechuan shrimp, they think over a project, mentally speaking to each other.
Katya, “What if we can find big drug dealer again, figure out where he keeps cash and steal it?”
Katja, “How to find big feesh?”
“Start with small one, watch. He gets product from somebody, who gets it from somebody. Sooner or later, we wind up at big boy. Then we follow the money. They have to keep it someplace.”
“Zoup ees good, ah, and now shreemp.”
The waitress puts the platter between them. It’s not shy on shrimp, jumbo too, and a pile of stir fried vegetables all with tangy dark Szechuan sauce.
Katya, “Place is busy for a reason, dishes are excellent, price is fair.”
Katja, “What ees dinner? We haf steak last night, Chinese today.”
“Wait and see where they had lunch. Maybe Italian place.”
Twins take a walk around Chinatown, then up through what’s left of Little Italy, which is being cannibalized by Chinatown. As they stroll down Chrystie St. towards Rivington, the come across Rubriosa Ristorante, stop to study the menu in the glass.
Katja, “They haf bar inside, menu looks good.”
Katya flips through her phone, “Good rating. If they don’t have Italian for lunch, we can come here. Not even a half mile from hotel.”
They return to the hotel room. Quiet afternoon, alone together, glass of wine on the terrace, one thing leads to another. In this case Katja’s orgasm leads to Katya’s.
Shortly after, Ellen and Mani return, “Hey there bad girls,” she’s poked her head in the twins’ bedroom, “ready for tea?”
They unwind from each other, “Da, we will be out in a minute.”
Tea on the terrace, Ellen picked up pâté and crackers from Zabar’s, “We had Chinese for lunch too, Wu Liang Li near Rockefeller Center. Place was packed. Our driver was great. I asked for someone who knew about the city and could speak passable English. He’s been driving for twenty years and an original New Yorker, told us all about the neighborhoods and what building was what. Up through Times Square, what a zoo. Clean up to Harlem, then down through Central Park.”
Mani, “The Metropolitan is crazy packed outside with tourists. Inside must be nuts. Then we went along 5th Avenue, that’s when he dropped us off at Wu Laing Li, went and parked the car. Ellen insisted he come to lunch with us. Afterwards back through midtown, then Soho, Chinatown all the way to Battery Park. We bought coffees from street vendors, just kept moving.”
Mani, “So much here, it’s kind of overwhelming. But I got to see all the places you hear about and see bits of on TV shows and movies. Our driver was Gennaro, had a thick New York accent, he and Ellen laughed at each other, her southern, his totally Queens, with extra Italian thrown in. They talked food. He said it was his best day driving. She gave him a big tip.”
Katja, “Good, you haf a nice day, see the city wiz no walk, walk, walk. Take a break, we will shower, haf vodka and go to Italian place maybe at seven.”
By seven fifteen, they are seated, vodkas served, bottle of Chianti coming. They skip salads, two orders of fried calamari appetizer. Then lasagna for two with mozzarella, tomato, sausage and meatballs. Tilefish and chicken with caramelized onions round out the entrees.
Ellen, “So yummy, and the prices are more than reasonable. Hard to believe it’s New York, lasagna was excellent,” she drags a hunk of ciabatta through the remaining sauce.”
Mani, “We don’t have meatballs at home, they’re kind of tasty.”
Ellen, “I got a good tomato sauce recipe too, from cooking school. One that you wear down all day, old style. I might dust it off one weekend when I can check on it regular. Or I can put it in a slow cooker, that’s it, don’t have to watch and stir so much.”
Dinner draws to a close, Ellen, “Time to get to the room, I got plans for young Mani, you two want in?”
Katya, “We have already sex, Mani will like you for herself maybe. Sister and I will have a nightcap, watch something on TV. We leave for airport at nine fifteen, flight is ten, home by noon.”
Katja pays the tab, hotel is a ten minute walk, Ellen and Mani goodnight and go to their room, the twins prop up pillows in bed, Katya surfs movies while Katja makes drinks. Then they settle in to watch the last James Bond, Skyfall.
Katja, “Moovey ees okay, except listen to James Bond and woman always complain about being old.”
Ellen, “Ahhh home, just leave the suitcases, Mani and I will deal later.”
Katja, “Just only pizza or something for dinner, we had nice breakfast and good snack on plane.”
Ellen, “I’ll go to Rouse and get something prepared, Mani, deal with the suitcases please, I’m going to the store.”
Katja and Katya sit in the courtyard and veg. It’s approaching three, tea will be in an hour or so.
Katya mentals, “Mani did well, she’s in too deep now and she seems to truly like the work.”
“She ees most sociopath person of all of us.”
“I am trusting more, not completely. She is impulsive, asking questions, but she is young. We will see if she learns lesson and no more ask about our past.”
“You think she ees dangerous to us?”
“If she were to get access to our accounts, may be tempting for her.”
“She does not know how much we haf, Ellen would never say.”
“I think it might be good to find more cartel money. Make her rich, she will not anymore think to get our money. Anyway, I do not want to be too paranoid, if she is going to work with us, we need to trust her. Find a drug connection, we will give her dangerous job, she will have to kill.”
“Make her find drug connection.”
Katya cocks her head, “Sister has good idea, that is how we will do it.”
Ellen found fresh catfish at the store, she’s cutting it in crosswise strips for baking, a box of Panko breadcrumbs on the counter. Katja is standing next to her, Mani is dealing with laundry, Katya is in her room reviewing spreadsheets.
Ellen, “I’m doing crusted catfish with baked beans and a salad. The prepared stuff looked boring and this is easy enough.”
“Good, favorite, I will heat beans and chop ohnyon. Also, stop for a minute, I need to tell you something.”
Ellen quits slicing, turns to Katja, “We are giving Mani test. She will track low level drug dealer to boss. When we figure out where the money ees, we will steal it. Then we will give her beeg cut. Sister and I think it safer for us eef Mani ees rich girl on her own.”
Ellen, “You think she may go after our money?”
“We do not know, we want to trust, but she came to us differently than you. We had good money when you came along, but we all did the drug dealer together and made us reech.”
Ellen, “So she does most of the legwork, takes a lot of the risk at first, if we score and she gets a ton of money, she’s got no reason to risk screwing us around.”
“Da. So, now you know, when Katya brings it up, do not offer to help at first, she has to do most of the work, until we find out where the big money is, then we all go in.”
Ellen, “Okay, I want to think her trustworthy, and she’s done nothing but make a coupla kid mistakes. But, you’re right, we can’t just overlook that, we need her to jump in the fire.”
They have cocktails, dinner, then Cognac in the courtyard.
Katya, “Mani, we have a project for you. We think if we track drug deals, we can find out where the money goes. The street dealer turns money over to someone, who turns it over to someone else. Eventually, all that money winds up in a pile someplace, do you understand?”
Mani, “Then what?”
“We steal it.”
Mani smiles, “Cool. What do I do?”
“You will learn surveillance and tracking by doing surveillance and tracking. You are going to find out where the pile is.”
Mani, “Awesome, seems like a lot of late nights.”
“Da, and being careful. We are not interested in ripping off one small drug deal, you must keep following until the money stops, you understand?”
“Yes, if we’re going to rip off a drug lord, it needs to be a big fat payday.”
Katya, “And you will do most of the work, we come in if needed, and at the end to get the cash. For that, you will get maybe a bigger piece than one quarter.”
“No shit? You don’t have to do that, I’d do my end for the usual split. You’ve already been more than fair, I haven’t shot anyone and still got a quarter of the contract.”
Ellen, “You have more than half the work, this could take weeks of following dangerous people, maybe a few months. Late nights and on mostly your own. Training on the firing line, you should be rewarded accordingly.”
Mani, “A challenge, if the big money can be found, I will find it.”
Katya, “Don’t get brave or stupid. If one trail is too dangerous, drop it, something easier will come along. Do not buy drugs, do not interact with anyone. You should watch, follow along and find out who gives money to who. Even use a video cam. All your work should be in the shadows. You are looking for the final drop, the last guy in the chain, there is always a leader, the main man. If you don’t locate the money beforehand, the last man will lead you there.”
Mani, “It’s possible that some second in command delivers the actual cash to wherever they store and count.”
Katya, “Exactly, but it will be someone close to the boss, not some street kid. They will be armed, they will not be nice. If you think you are even remotely in danger, leave and get away. Drugs are everywhere, something else will turn up.”
Mani grins, “This is so flipping great. Except, like, where do I start?”
Katya, “I have a few ideas.”
Katya and Katja are at Café Envie with Gerard.
Gerard, “Where are the others?”
Katja, “Somebody haf to work, take care of house, Mani ees still in school.”
Gerard laughs gently, “Of course, I haven’t done productive work in so long, I’ve forgotten that most people do.”
Katya, “We have questions, you may be able to help.”
Gerard, “Of course, if I can.”
“We want to know about drug traffic in New Orleans. A curiosity question only. We also don’t want anyone to know we are asking.”
Gerard, “Well, aside from a contact of mine who supplies my few indulgences, I have no idea. I get a bit of marijuana, I’ve tried a couple of other things, cocaine, LSD. Not much my style, but you know that already.”
“No, don’t ask him. Can you ask police friend, like a curiosity question, just chit chat with a pal? Does he know who supplies drugs in New Orleans. Like you are wondering out of curiosity where all the drugs come from, who are these people?”
Gerard, “Ah, not so hard, casual conversation. It isn’t like they’ll see me as some kind of drug vigilante, just the curious old man they know in the French Quarter. Yes, I see what you need. Let me work on it, is there a hurry?”
“Good then, you know, I also know someone else, an old acquaintance. Best he remain anonymous, he may also be able to help, in fact, I’m certain of it.”
Katya, “Okay, but casual, as if it is only a passing whim, do not arouse suspicion.”
“Not to worry dear girl. Gerard is known for rambling conversation and eclectic interests, after all, I’m the one who dabbles in the occult, used to anyway. That’s how some of these people know me, likely think I still do. Sometimes it’s useful to be seen as a dotty old guy who fritters away the hours with momentary interests, only to be forgotten the next day.”
Katja, “Da, ees good, make people think you are bored and keel time only.”
Gerard smiles, “It’s worked for me more times than I can recall.”
They finish up, Gerard stays for a second almond liquor au lait, the twins settle up and return to the house.
Ellen is in the kitchen, “How’s roast beef po-boys sound tonight? I got chuck roast in the slow cooker, make a rich brown gravy later.”
Katja, “Smells already good. We saw Gerard, he ees to make inquiry wiz police friend. He also said he knows someone who may be familiar wiz who is what in drug business in New Orleans. Maybe cut down time Mani needs to track money.”
“That would help, makes me antsy to think about her prowling the streets alone.”
Katya, “Will do her good to do some of it. I have changed my mind, you should go with her. Do not do anything stupid, is not that important. I want to test her, but I do not want her hurt for no reason, just to snoop on drug dealers. She can watch the deals, you can watch the rest.”
Ellen, “Good, I feel better. Gotta say, she was pumped about doing it, maybe she wants to prove herself.”
Katya, “She can still do that with you along. Obviously go armed, Mani too.”
“She’ll like that part.”
Katja and Katya do Skype calls to the shop managers, Maria is training a new girl, other than that the places are running normally. Katya already knows, she reviews the accounts daily. The calls are to say hi and let anyone bring up anything on their minds. Today they have whatever employees are there get on the call, Katya asks about school, how life outside the shop is going. It’s not her temperament, but she’s learned that the girls like to tell their stories, and like it that the bosses are interested.
Katya always asks about school, always says they have to keep their grades high. Houston uses a different lettering system, E (excellent 90-100) S (satisfactory, above average 80-89) P (passing, below average 75-79) U (unsatisfactory 70-74).
Katya Donut pays fifty buck bonuses for Es and twenty five for Ss. One girl gets straight Es and earns an extra two fifty every six weeks. All the girls get something because Katya won’t let them work unless grades are S or E. Some are in college, they get paid for As and Bs. Maria gets a percent of profit from all stores, individual store managers get a percent of profit from their store. Katya pays the bonuses for good grades out of pocket, not out of store profits, it wouldn’t be fair to managers.
The phone calls chew up a couple of hours, then the twins and Ellen have a workout, the one slave quarter has a treadmill, bike and rowing machine, heavy bag, leg press and curl machine, another for lat pull downs and curls. Ellen is on something almost every day when they’re home.
Mani comes in at three, she’s changed into sweats and starts on the heavy bag.
Ellen, Katja and Katya are wrapping up and sucking down glasses of cold water. There’s a small kitchen in the place, Ellen had water filtration systems in the main house and the slave quarters. The second slave quarter is furnished sparely, for now they don’t use it for anything.
Ellen, “She’s pretty strong for a small girl, quick with those hands.”
Katja, “She makes good contact wiz her punch and keek. Speed makes up for her size, quick wiz feet also.”
Mani is triple tapping the heavy bag with roundhouse, then side and back kicks. She follows with spinning kicks, her best kick, she can zip a spin and thunk the bag with her heel over her head. She also does it airborne, a flying spinning.
Ellen, “Great form Mani, you got that sucker nailed.”
Mani grins, “Don’t know if I’ll ever get to use it, but it’s fun to make it happen. By the way, I’m skipping summer school, I can do the other thing without getting up for class after a late night of spying.”
Katya, “We talked it over, you will do the work with Ellen along. It doesn’t feel safe, doing the surveillance without a second set of eyes. Too easy to get surprised for instance. Also, wait for a while, we have lines out for leads. If they come through, you may be able to skip following around the little guys to get to the bigger ones.”
Mani, “Can’t say I’m disappointed, sounded lonely, but I would have done it.”
“I know you would have, this is better. We don’t need to know all the small fish, we just want to get to the money.”
Ellen, “Time to clean me up and prep tea, need to check on my roast beef.”
Tea comes and goes, cocktails assembled at six thirty. The girls like their routines. The nature of conflict resolution, plus Houston, offers enough variety. When they are at home, it’s relaxing for the twins to float along in the lazy river way of the Crescent City.