And it does. It’s pretty tame, parents took tours before the opening, day one is an official school day. Considering what we charge, and the usual high test Manhattan parents, kids arrive on time, excited by new surroundings and new friends. The girls are adorable doing light stretches, then a slow follow along of basic tai chi, then the simplest of gung fu, more like dance the way we teach it. The forty minutes sails by, right away the girls learn to count in Chinese and are physically occupied, not fidgeting in a class.
Next comes math, get the heavy lifting out of the way, the rest of the day is general sciences, Amaya’s dramatic arts classes, which incorporates reading and writing, then time on the roof and hands on botany. They do some of their work on their personal computer, other things with pencil and paper, they do need to learn to write longhand after all.
I’m sitting in the lobby as the day comes to a close, girls are in a frenzy telling mom or dad their stories, “And then, we spent an hour in the garden learning how plants grow, I have my very own plant, Melissa said it is sage, it smells so good. Then we had tea and cookies. And a really good fruit smoothie.”
Another girl is telling dad, “Soo Lin is teaching us to count in Chinese, ee, ar, san, si, wu, I forget what comes next, but Soo Lin said we will learn lots of Chinese for gung fu.”
Dad, “You call your teacher Soo Lin?”
“We call all our teachers by their first name, that’s what they said to do, they said the teacher is not the boss, we are all learning together.”
Dad, “Wish they’d told that to my teachers.”
Just then, a hyper Manhattan mom approaches me, “My daughter says they call all the teachers, even the headmaster, by first names. How do you expect them to learn respect for authority?”
“We don’t, we expect them to learn to question authority. From our point of view, so-called authority gets away with too much nonsense. We want girls to challenge that. I presume you don’t want your daughter banging up against a glass ceiling. She avoids that by learning to politely challenge authority.”
Mom knits her brows, chews on it a bit, “Why didn’t I think of that? Good Lord, it seems so obvious.”
“When your daughter leaves here, whether she goes to Chapmans or elsewhere, she will not be cowed by false authority. She will question them into submission. If they don’t like her questions, do you really want her there?”
Mom, “I’ve heard that about Chapmans girls, Elisha is my first, one of my friends has a girl at Chapmans, it’s why I enrolled her here. I don’t know if she has the special skills it takes to get into Chapmans, she’s just six.”
“Perhaps something will emerge, but it isn’t important, your daughter will blossom in her own unique way if she is left to follow her interests, and it will be a better way than one we, or you, proscribe for her. We know it’s scary for parents, they want to lay out a path of security and success. It’s understandable, but life is hardly that predictable. Much of what your daughter learns today will be useless in five years, how to question is timeless.”
Mom, “It appears I’ve stumbled into the right environment for her. She’s been diagnosed as ADHD, I was worried she would be distracted all day.”
“Is she on medication?”
“Not yet, I’ve been hesitant.”
“See how she’s doing in a month.”
“You think she’ll settle down? Good luck.”
“Luck has nothing to do with it.”
Mom looks puzzled, but she doesn’t argue the point, the buzz of the lobby is settling, girls go off with mom or dad or nanny.
We don’t do tea at home today, school details keep us until nearly seven. I call Marconi’s and ask Dom to send over our usual mix. He’s fed us so many times we just give him a headcount. The food is waiting at the security desk.
Marsha, “They just dropped it off, he said you could settle up later.”
“We are whipped, I have no idea where the time went. I was watching Soo Lin teach kids tai chi and gung fu at seven this morning, all of a sudden it’s seven tonight.”
Marsha, “You teach there?”
“Nope, but it was first day, so I helped the kitchen staff, Dasha insists on examining all the food prep, I think she studied each piece of fruit for flaws.”
Marsha, “Get out.”
“That’s how she is, focused on the task at hand, it’s why Ultra Violet works so well, and the shops in the boroughs. Amaya has to drag her over there almost every week to examine the kitchens, taste the food, look in the freezers and refrigerators for anything close to out of date.”
Marsha, “I’ve been to the place on Queens, it’s three blocks from my apartment. It’s always pristine, the fried chicken is to die for and I’ve eaten enough cobbler and banana pudding to fill an SUV. Everyone in my neighborhood goes there.”
“I’ll pass the compliment along to Dasha.”
The others have already taken the food up, I take the elevator to our place.
Amaya is stretched on the couch with a vodka, “I am totaled, I thought thirty kids, a few at a time, how hard could it be? Chloe saved the day, while I kept them on task, she visited and spread sunshine.”
“Any of the kids recognize her?”
“No, they are six and seven, I doubt they know from fashion, although I must say, moms have them in some cute things. I doubt the kids know the difference between Target and Juicy Couture. I do know none of them were outfitted at Target.”
“Families are reasonably well to do, we charge about what Hewitt does, around twenty two to twenty four thousand a year.”
Amaya, “Does it make money?”
“We didn’t scholarship anyone, so we take in just under seven hundred thousand. While we have no lease or mortgage expense, no property tax, we still only break even until we can add two more grades. Nikko estimates we make a little money by the time we add fifth and sixth. Right now we have three salaried teachers besides what you, Chloe and Dasha earn, we pay at the public school rate, which is higher than the private school rate.”
“How did language lab go?”
Janah, “More than a half dozen are already bilingual, one in French, two in Japanese and four or five in Mandarin. They can help the others, it will be good for them.”
Everyone showers, gathers around for dinner. It’s a fairly quiet group tonight, not fried, pleasantly pooped. After clean up, Dasha and I look around, the women have all disappeared to their rooms.
Dasha, yawns, “We haf another day tomorrow, all week.”
“I thought the kitchen crew handled things well, you won’t be needed there every day. Amaya and Chloe can taper off to a couple of times a week. We didn’t set it up so we have to be in school all day every day. We want to make sure things are flowing in the beginning, but we hired a headmaster, even though the school is tiny right now. She has to handle things, not us. Janah told her last week we would be around the first week to help, not to make decisions. As her Board of Directors, we need to know what’s going on, but not take over as Boards frequently seem prone to try. Or the other flaw, showing up for Board meetings and accepting whatever they are told.”
Dasha climbs the stairs to her room, I climb the stairs to mine. Janah is already in twilight, I snug in beside her, we exchange a soft kiss and fade out.
Everybody survives week one, ease back in week two, by the end of the first month, Amaya and Chloe are on a routine, two half days. I’m out of it, Dasha checks the kitchen on random days whenever she has a free hour. Janah is full time between the temple and the Society. Nikko and Zi have our property and liquid investments to manage.
Janah, “Have to thank Lacy yet again. She gave up Mattie Sylvester as her second in command to become headmaster of our school. Mattie’s been superb. Working for Lacy for five years, I expected her to be good, she’s overachieved.”
“Having her own ship to command, even if it’s a small ship right now, she’s making the most of it. I’m sure Lacy reassured her that we live up to our commitments, she has a good contract and the chance to create her own school. And she’s only thirty. She gets to start small and grow along with the school. Besides, you had, what, twenty applicants for the post?”
Janah, “We had to look at other candidates, not just hand it off to Mattie. She was still the front runner after the interviews, still, some of the others I read as good people.”
“Why did we have so many applicants for a starter school?”
Janah, “I suppose for the same reason Mattie wanted it, to build from the ground up. If it works, you are forever remembered as the first headmaster, if it doesn’t, circumstances were against you. Some people would be content to be Lacy’s second in command until retirement, others want to show their stuff. Lacy always said Mattie was in the latter category, surprised she stayed five years. But it’s competitive, the private school thing. And Mattie is young, most schools want seasoning for a headmaster, a long track record of handling fussy teachers and demanding parents.”
“What’s up for today, I read the family website schedule, you still going to the temple this morning?”
“Yep, we have a few monks visiting from Europe, here for the week. I meet with them, they want to participate in the gung fu sessions, so I suppose it will be after that.”
“Four, two masters, two advanced disciples, one a woman, they arrived two days ago, I understand they visited around Chinatown, talked with David Li about the gardens. He said they were amazed at how extensive a garden we had, impressed with our multi-floor idea and David’s lab.”
Years ago, David wanted to expand the garden but we have limited grounds. We built up, three stories, like a parking lot. It works fine, since the ground floor, two and three are covered, David uses grow lights where necessary, there’s an overhead sprinkler system. In the winter, he can lower tarps down the sides to keep the plants from freezing. The roof over the fourth floor is solar panels, which are also on every other roof. Con Ed pays us every month to tap into our excess.
Nikko installed solar panels on the roofs of all our properties. In New York, we don’t get desert sun all year, but we get enough to sharply reduce our costs which contributes to additional positive cash flow. Retail and commercial tenants don’t pay utilities directly, it’s part of the lease, they don’t care how the juice gets to their space, as long as it does. And they like the idea their business is in a building that’s reducing fossil fuel consumption.
We are just finishing up breakfast, Dasha made raspberry crepes, veggie omelets and fluffy buttermilk biscuits. I’m rinsing plates and stacking the dishwasher while Dasha wipes down the dining table. That table is twenty plus years now, one Mrs. Epstein bought us when we first built out the space. Teak, seats twelve, still the original chairs, with our loving care the set gets more beautiful as it ages.
Dasha, “Daria and Eloise have feenish wiz new drone. We will see now.”
Up to the roof, Eloise has the thing airborne, she makes a u-turn, brings it back, it hovers over her head. There’s a dozen tennis balls laying next to her.
Daria, “Roll one.”
I take one, bowl it across the roof, not fast, a decent clip.
Pop!….the ball jumps, then stops, there’s a dart sticking out of it.
“Dang, Eloise, that’s neat.”
Daria, “Now, bounce one.”
I slam one on the roof, it sails up, halfway down, Pop!
“Cool. What if I roll one fast?”
Daria picks up a ball and zings it, it runs twenty feet, Pop!
“Can I try?”
Eloise shows me how to guide it, it’s just like a video game, point the laser dot at the target. The chip figures out the ball’s trajectory, the mini-rocket tracks, I tap the screen, the dart strikes the target. It’s almost too simple, it’s not like a gun, once the target is sighted in, tap the screen, the computer does the rest.
Daria gathers the spent rockets, “Twenty bucks each, if we can’t retrieve it, no problem. This is only shell. Once dart is fired, chip in missile is smushed by the pressure, no more any good. No one can steal design.”
“You girls have done marvelous work on this, congratulations. I can’t wait to see Nikko’s expression when she see this sucker.”
Dasha, “She ees not in head?”
“No, she’s focused on business, unless there’s a pressing question we don’t follow each other all day. I don’t know what Janah’s doing, she has guests at the temple.”
Daria, “Maybe we have work soon, try drone in field.”
“I don’t know, Janah hasn’t said anything, nothing’s come up that requires this level of sophistication, it will eventually. How many can you make?”
Daria, “All we need. Next we will have drone with four darts, Eloise is almost finish with attachment. Also, all family must train.”
“Of course. We can set that up at tea this afternoon, let me take another few shots.”
Now that we’ve trained on flying the thing, zeroing in on a target and pressing the screen is child’s play, I whap another half dozen tennis balls, decide the machine is too smart for me to screw up.
Daria, “We will order darts, David Li will keep fresh drug at temple. Maybe, a few vials here if we need right away.”
“Janah can bring a couple of things back today.”
I go online to Janah, “Busy?”
“Visitors are at gung fu, I’m hanging out with a cup of tea and Masters Jack and Frieda.”
“Bring a couple of David Li’s concoctions for the work, the new drone is ready. That thing is amazing, I’ve been zapping tennis balls right out of the air, it doesn’t miss.”
“Wow. Nikko will have fun with that. Okay, I’m going up to see David Li, how much do you want?”
“Vial of each, it’s to keep at home in case we need something quickly. Otherwise, he should keep fresh preparations at the temple.”
“I’ll be home for tea, our guests will be finishing up hard gung fu this afternoon, then afternoon tea here. The monks will handle it, I don’t need to stick around. I’ll give a talk at evening meditation one day this week, not today.”
“See you this afternoon.”
We log off.
“Janah will bring a couple of vials today.”
Dasha, “Dahfoney, we make for shopping grocery. Something for dinner, and more aig, beeskit mix, other things.”
“What do we do for lunch, something light?”
Dasha, “Da, ees Daria, Eloise you and me only. We haf already gud breakfast, maybe cut fruit, chiz, seemple. For dinner fry feesh, mahcahroney and chizz, porky bean, what ees dessert?”
“Let’s get mixed berries and make cobbler, crème fraiche.”
Dasha turns to her sister, “Daria, we will haf lunch at noon, you and Eloise will come to keechen and eat, no skeep, we haf no time to chase you around for eating.”
Daria grins her fake grin, “Da, noon, bye-bye now, thank you for coming, have a nice day, we appreciate your business, come again soon, blah, blah.”
Dasha ignores her, Amaya taught the girls to improv sociability when they worked at the Village Diner. They aren’t friendly, but they are smart. They see the need to make small talk with strangers, even if they would never do it naturally. To compensate for the imposition, they use it sarcastically around us, particularly Amaya. She gets to play drama queen, indignant at the twins’ jibes at her effort to socialize them. You don’t socialize the antisocial, you just try to keep them corralled.
Chloe plays flute while we settle from our day. Late afternoon tea is transition time, from our work to a quiet world of just us. Our us has grown, from Janah, Nikko and me, to Amaya, Zi, Chloe, the twins, then Eloise.
After Chloe plays, we sit silently for a while, then I say, “Everyone please find time to learn the new tricks on the drone. We need you all trained to fly it, you don’t need to do the tricky stuff, but you need to be able to takeoff, maneuver and land. The guidance system is ready, it’s remarkably simple,” I reiterate the tennis ball story.
Nikko, “I want to go now, I like flying it.”
Zi, “I’ll go now as well.”
Amaya, “Chloe works tomorrow, a television commercial, in a studio, not on the street thank God. We are free day after.”
“Good enough. Daria and Eloise are building three or four more after they get the current one adjusted, they will carry four darts.”
Nikko, “Multiple missiles? Isn’t that heavy?”
Daria, “It operates off chip, small battery for power, thin aluminum shell, like soda can, dart weighs an ounce even with drug.”
I explain the self destruct feature, Nikko says, “We may never have to slice up anyone again.”
Janah, “Drugs for getting cooperation, temporary paralysis, memory adjustment and termination are preferable to our current approach. It takes enormous amounts of time and qi energy and more time to recover. I’m delighted to have the alternatives.”
Zi, “What of other teams?”
Janah, “They do basic work, child and spousal abusers, other low level sociopaths. The physical approach is effective. They don’t have the skills to delete or alter memory. And I can’t have our pharmaceuticals in their hands, they don’t know the dangers and aren’t trained to administer or monitor them. They aren’t approved by any agency. Our teams aren’t pals of ours, they get paid to do a job, some may not be so trustworthy.”
What she means is the Society has a half dozen two person teams who apply physical persuasion to targets, generally men who think beating their wives, girlfriends or kids is just peachy. We also target child molesters, pimps who run children for sex and others who sell children as personal toys or to make kiddie porn.
We don’t care how physical the teams get, the rule is, enough to keep targets out of the business, not enough to kill them. The exceptions are personal deadly threat or a deadly threat to an innocent. The Society is a private vigilante group, one that takes on persistent abusers that the justice system doesn’t seem willing to handle. Too busy looking for drug dealers and immigrants. There’s lots of money in the DEA and Immigration business, lots of jobs, lots of weapons, lots of press. The public thinks they’re being kept safe, ignore the occasional story of a stolen child, or child prostitution. They often believe the abused woman has a hand in her abuse, or should just pick up and leave. People are always brave and resourceful when they rattle their vocal cords, seldom when they’re under the gun.
Dasha and I move to the kitchen to start dinner, Nikko and Zi upstairs to hone drone skills.
Amaya makes drinks, brings Dasha her vodka rocks bitters, “Here you go Cossack, just how you like it.”
“Eemaya, no time for bahloney talk. Dasha ees to make mahcahroney and chizz, Dahfoney ees haf to fry feesh so you will haf gud dinner. Go sit wiz Chloe and Janah, haf cocktail, tell them you are beautiful genius girl, blah, blah.”
Amaya plops down, “Chloe, Janah, I am a beautiful genius, in case you have forgotten. I do amazing work, look splendid doing it, even surrounded by psychotic Russian infiltrators. I am certain to get both a Nobel Prize and a McArthur Genius Grant any moment.”
Dasha pays no attention whatsoever, she has her laser brain focused on precisely layering mac and cheese. I’m just finishing caramelizing onions to add to the pork and beans, drizzle in soy sauce, add minced garlic. I get it on the stove to simmer and start slicing catfish filets. I cut the filets in half, better for a crispy coating. The cobbler in the oven bubbling nicely. It will take forty five minutes for the macaroni, just enough time to let the beans mingle flavors. I can start frying fish in a half hour. Fifteen for that, then serve.
When we’re ready, I mental Nikko, “Dinner’s ready in five, put the toy away and all the children come inside.”
“That thing is neat, dart never misses, be down in a second.”
Over plates of fried catfish, we talk about progress at the school.
Amaya, “Chloe and I were there earlier, apparently Daphne spoke to a mom whose daughter had been diagnosed as ADHD some time back, do you recall Daphne?”
Amaya, “Mom said you were right, no ADHD.”
Zi, “What was that about?”
“When she told me about the diagnosis, it was the first day of school, I asked if the girl was on meds, mom said she was still deciding. I suggested she give it a month first.”
Zi, “Ah, she didn’t understand how they organize the girls’ day.”
“No, thirty minutes of tai chi and gung fu, ten or fifteen for meditation and the hyperactivity disappears. Plus, they go online and engage with the coursework. There’s no sitting still while a teacher talks. There’s a snack break in the morning, short lunch, time on the roof with their plant, they take the stairs, not the elevator. In between classes, they do five minutes of stretch, jumping jacks, sing songs. They move to different rooms for different courses, not in the same room all day.”
Janah, “They don’t have time for ADHD, the girls who finish faster than others aren’t required to sit still and wait, they can go on to other things.”
Dasha, “Everyone go somewhere, we haf to clear table and wash now.”
Chloe, “Dinner was marvelous Dasha, Daphne, thank you.”
“Dobro pozhalovat, for dessert, meex berry crumble wiz crème fraiche. We will bring you it, go away, watch moovey, I will haf vodka Dahfoney,” she’s picking up plates, rinsing and stacking the dishwasher.
Amaya, “I’ll make it, I want another and one for Daria, Chloe?”
Chloe, “I think red wine, Nikko care for a refill?”
Amaya does her bartender thing, the family circles the flat screen and decides on Side Effects with Rooney Mara and Jude Law. We let dinner settle for the first fifty minutes then serve berry crumble.
We finish watching Rooney and Jude play head games. I liked all of the movie except the last ten minutes. It looked like they wanted a flashy ending and pressed too hard. The story wasn’t completely convincing in the first place, the ending was completely unconvincing. But it’s entertainment, not a personal growth experience.
Janah gets a phone call while we’re sitting in bed reading, she listens, calls Surveillance, gives them names and locations, hangs up.
“We may be working soon.”
This morning at breakfast, after beignets, grilled ham slices and eggs to order, Janah says, “We may have a project. I started Surveillance on it last night.”
Nikko, “Who’s being a bad guy and where?”
Janah, “Don’t know. It appears they work out of Las Vegas. It will be a few days until they decide if there’s fact or fabrication. One of our contacts heard the story from an undercover cop inside a drug operation. A couple of guys talked about doing young girls. Surveillance is going to find and follow, two names are on the website. I need Eloise and Daria to see what they can dig up.”
Nikko, “The undercover didn’t report it?”
“I presume he thinks it may jeopardize his operation. Our contact has nothing to do with the local police, he’s security with a casino. We cultivated him some time ago in case we need contacts in Las Vegas. He’s on board because he’s seen too much abuse and Las Vegas doesn’t like bad news stories, so they tend to look the other way. The ‘what happens in Vegas’ mentality.”
“Zi, “Then why do they chase around drug dealers? Seems like more bad news.”
“It’s not about dealing with dealing, it’s dealing with disputes over territory. Gun battles are bad for business.”
“Ah they don’t care about people taking drugs, they just don’t want the gamblers scared.”
“Just like prostitution, it’s legal in Nevada, in part because it was going to be there anyway. So why not make money on it rather than have criminals making money on it, with no health regulation and gamblers going home with diseases.”
Dasha, “Ees rest of country stupid? Make prostitution legal, no pimps to beat up girls, take all money.”
Janah, “American stupidity is why we have the Society. If lawmakers were reasonable and rational, we could find lots of other things to do besides refocusing bad people. Shadows are a different matter, they’re going to be there regardless of laws.”
Nikko is on the phone as she and Zi head to the Murakami Sylk property management offices. She says she doesn’t handle daily operations, but nothing happens she isn’t informed about. Nikko is conscientious extremis regarding family business.
Amaya and Chloe leave for the studio, she’s advertising her line, created in conjunction with Mayumi Sato, one of the girls who started up Chloe’s fan page. She and Katsumi Mitsui came to New York from Kyoto. Mayumi graduated from the New York Fashion Institute. She did designs on her own, sold some, then approached Amaya about blending Japanese contemporary fashion with American. That lead to Chloe Couture. Now they retail several million a year in rags and accessories. Chloe is the spokeswoman. Commercials are shot and run on Chloe’s fan page, a separate Chloe Couture website and YouTube. They show the clothes and accessories, a description of fabric and materials. Customers can upload an image of themselves, in a bodysuit, or shorts and a bra, or nude I suppose, we have no access to their photos. Click on a skirt, top, dress, and accessories and see themselves in the outfit. The customer can save them to their own computer, think over what they like, show a friend. If they want to make a purchase, it’s like buying anything else online.
There is minimal inventory, production is on an as needed basis, all the clothes and accessories are made in either Japan or America, nobody gets an accessory or blouse that says made in Taiwan. They can do that because the stuff is high end and margins are excellent despite paying good wages, bonuses and benefits to workers. There are photos of our factories and the people who work there.
Chloe and Amaya get a percentage, the bulk goes to Mayumi. Chloe and Amaya hardly need money, but Mayumi insisted. Must be a face saving thing, despite the fact that Mayumi and Katsumi are responsible for much of Chloe’s success, having set up the fan page in the first place. Last year Chloe and Amaya made a quarter million each, Mayumi made just over a million and Chloe Couture has an additional half million in reserves.
Nikko, “Amaya is a money machine, she’s earned something like ten million dollars over the last few years, Chloe made five million in two years from modeling, her piece of the movie royalties and now income from the website. She could make twice that if she did personal appearances.”
“That isn’t happening. She is part of the family net worth, near the billion dollar mark and she has no time. Amaya has another book out in a couple of months, which will be another movie in a year, and producers are after Chloe for other parts. She’s politely declined due to time constraints. She only did the two films because Amaya gets such a buzz from it.”
Zi, “Is she going to be in the new one, if there’s to be one?”
“It’s a continuation of the last flick, she has to be in it.”
Nikko, “We did well with that movie, near tripled our investment when it went international.”
“And the fans are clamoring for a sequel. Amaya is taking extra care, she refuses to do a second rate sequel, for her, the sequel has to be better than the original. She would never have Chloe in a poorly made movie. Aside from Chloe’s innate charm, her public image is Amaya’s personal creation. Amaya doesn’t allow imperfections, or I should say, she turns Chloe’s into adorable assets.”
Amaya, “Thank you. For your perception, tonight you may be allowed to pleasure me, perhaps while I pleasure Chloe, double delight.”
“ I am all anticipation.”
“Of course you are.”
Zi, “Daphne is suddenly a flood of rose lightening, her Amaya aura.”
“She made certain irresistible suggestions for later in the evening I have no intention of resisting even if they were resistible.”
Nikko, “You don’t ever resist.”
“It would only create dissonance, I don’t mind dissonance, but not with my women. Harmony and cooperation are my two guiding principles.”
“Harmony, cooperation and orgasms.”
“Yes, three, three guiding principles, harmony, cooperation and orgasms.”
Zi, “And a fanatical devotion to feminine beauty.”
“True! Four, four guiding principles, harmony, cooperation, orgasms and a fanatical devotion to feminine beauty.”
Nikko, “This is sounding like the Spanish Inquisition skit.”
“Perhaps Amaya will put me on the rack, or make me do her in the comfy chair.”
Amaya, “You are an idiot.”