School starts, Sloane has been a known quantity since last year, students know she is transgender. Clarissa, at Chapmans now, was the ground breaker. The younger girls have only a vague understanding of transgender but Sloane is in sixth, her last year at Village School. In Manhattan, transgender isn't such a big deal, the LGBT alphabet soup has helped take away the stigma, at least among the enlightened. What the unenlightened think is irrelevant.
Our film crew is back, in Brooklyn for the day's shoot. The LA Times article came out a week ago, human interest not critique. The column was primarily an interview with Childers, Daria and Dasha. Coached by Amaya, the twins didn't wander off topic into how much they like killing people. The back story is that the family, specifically Janah and I, became wards of two Russian orphans, no mention of bad mommy or abduction by child sellers. We created a history of immigrant parents tragically killed and twins with no living relatives, here or in Russia. The twins are technically Belarusian, the father they never knew was from Belarus. Mother was Russian and the language is interchangeable. Documentation is thorough and real. Our family is half made up of children we took in, we're a version of Brad and Angelina. In fact, the columnist mentioned that very similarity.
Daria and Dasha were engaging, answered all the questions with sincerity or humor. He asked about Murakami Sylk and Daria answered, she is one of our business managers after all.
"Family has many business interests, property ownership, property management in both New York and San Francisco, a few restaurants, a film production company and we manufacture drones for the film industry. We also have four schools."
He wondered how they found time for all the projects, Daria said, "We like to be busy, what good is sitting around? Better to work. Besides, we employ many people and let them do their jobs."
Columnist, "I understand the restaurants start staff at fifteen dollars an hour and don't take tips. Is that profitable?"
"We don't operate to maximize profit, only not to lose money. We remain private, don't have to appease bankers or stockholders."
Columnist, "Who makes decisions, what company to start, expand, that sort of thing?"
"Family, usually at afternoon tea. Usually no business is discussed, it is family time, except once in a while we do a business update. If Nikko wants to do something, she brings it up, we discuss. Everyone has input. Then we vote to go or not."
Daria, "Why argue? Most of family has no interest in business, they trust Nikko. She has already done homework. Our biggest risk was the film business, we understood we could lose, the market is fickle. Amaya writes good scripts, funny, action, believable. So far, all our films make money. Diversification is better, mitigates risk. We own the buildings our restaurants and schools are in, no leases, our rent never goes up."
Columnist, "You are young, what, sixteen? How did you get such a grasp of business?"
She skips immortality and that she and Dasha are well over twenty one, "Nikko teaches, I pay attention. Dasha is not interested in business, but she created menu for all our restaurants. I like spreadsheets and numbers, Dasha likes tastes and ingredients. Amaya likes to create stories, Chloe likes modeling, kendo and acting, Eloise likes to build electronics. Everyone in family contributes what they do best."
The article got picked up by a couple of online magazines, then Forbes called. Nikko doesn't like Forbes, they specialize in trash talk and manage to put negative slants on a lot of articles. She blew them off.
Our movie girls arrive, Dasha says, "We haf to work hard today, run, jump off building, up stairs, shoot bad guys."
"I thought you were the bad guys."
"Da, but Eemaya makes gud script, they will pull for us like Tony Soprano or Godfather."
"Get a hot shower, we'll have cocktails after. How many more days of work?"
"Three, then finish."
"Good, I miss my cooking partner, it's been a month."
She goes off talking to herself, "Dahfoney ees miss Dasha, I am tired today, early call tomorrow."
I have them proteined and vegetabled up tonight, roast chicken, grilled mixed veg with tofu, wedge of lettuce, bleu cheese or vinaigrette. My nod to carbs is cherry apple crumble.
Chloe, "Great to be having dinner at home and everyone here."
Amaya, "By the way, we have a night shoot tomorrow, no dinner. They will have something catered. The last of the evening stuff. Thursday is daytime and Friday is for snips if we need to add something or change a line."
"The usual delay before release?"
"Six months, maybe sooner. We are being distributed nationwide this time, no advance screening for critics. Chloe, Matt and the twins will do preliminary TV, morning and late night."
Zi, "Are you up for that Daria?"
"Amaya will coach, they ask questions, we answer, it all happens in a few minutes."
After dinner, we watch TV, I'm curled up with Dasha. She's half asleep.
"Come on Dasha, you and Daria need to sleep, two more busy days."
No argument from them or Eloise, Amaya and Chloe are already in their room. The three shuffle up the stairs, Janah goes off to noodle online, Oceane is somewhere, probably drawing. Sloane and I play one game of Scrabble with Nikko and Zi which chews up an hour. I get Sloane in bed, go to my room, Janah's already asleep. Fifteen minutes later I am too.
Finally, filming is over. It's Saturday and we are firmly committed to a weekend of nothing. Amaya is taking Sloane to the stylist, her brown hair is long and thick. She's going simple and layered, something she doesn't have to fuss with. I decide to tag along, while Sloane gets styled, I do a grocery run, which is sizable so I have it delivered. By the time I'm done, there's a new Sloane.
"You are hot girl, do you like it?"
Sloane, "I love it, see how it falls into place, she shakes her head."
Amaya, "It does not fall that into place, come here and let me fix you, cripes, we just left the stylist for two hundred bucks. Can you leave it alone for an hour?"
"What cost two hundred dollars?"
"Daphne, it's ombre, it costs to have the color mix between dark and dip dye. You have perfect glossy black hair, like Nikko. Other people need a touch of color, or in Sloane's case, mixed color. I made them do hers subtle. Some people go overboard between dark to light and it looks like they need another dye job, nasty, like when the roots grow out."
"I've had the same hairstyle forever, except when I shaved it at the temple. I go with grow and hang, part middle or part to the side."
"You have Asian hair, a straight cut suits you. Once in a while some curling iron, when we go out, but we almost never go out."
She's right, we work, or do Society work, or kill Shadows. Not much call for hot hairstyles, Chloe is the only one that has constantly adjusted hair, part of the modeling and commercial business.
We're walking back to the condo, Amaya says, "Chloe and I have to go to Tokyo again. It's for commercial work, and they want the shots in Tokyo."
"When do you leave?"
"A week, I put it off a few days so we could wind down from the movie."
"You shouldn't travel alone, take the twins."
"Besides cooking, my job is family security. I don't want you and Chloe alone in LA, much less overseas. Somebody goes, Daria and Dasha are the most available right now. Nikko is swamped with business I think. I'll ask her, maybe she wants to go to Japan."
We're home, I call a brief family confab, "Chloe has commercial work in Tokyo, someone needs to go with them, two someones. Any volunteers?"
Nikko, "Should be me, I speak the language, Dasha and Daria don't. If Daria is here, she can run the business, we have Skype, SAT phones and the internet. Zi and I can afford a few days out of the country. How many days?"
Amaya, "One to travel, one to adjust, three days to shoot, maybe four, a day to get home."
Nikko, "No problem. You'll book Zi and I?"
Amaya, "Yes, I made four reservations. We're JAL first class both ways."
"Next Saturday, sorry for the short notice, the job just popped up."
"What's she pimping?"
"Cosmetics and a luxury hotel, we're staying there, Park Hyatt in Tokyo, favorite of Hollywood film stars."
Nikko, "If you’re doing a film stars hotel, why not take the twins, you can work in the new film?"
Amaya, "In the rush, it did not occur, you have a point. Do you want to go? Or should we take Dasha and Daria?"
Nikko, "Because of the film, the twins make more sense. You speak passable Japanese, Chloe is fluent. I don't mind missing an international flight, we have to fly across the country too much now."
Amaya, "Dasha, Daria, will you go?"
Daria, "Da. We maybe get chance to promote movie."
Amaya, "I will make sure of it. All Chloe has to do is bring it up. The Japanese love new American action films, and Chloe is a favorite. We will be on TV and the papers. I must be slipping, should have thought of it myself."
Oceane floats in, I ask, "Amaya, Chloe and the twins are going to Tokyo, do you want to go?"
"I'll take that as a yes."
Janah, "Be a good experience for Sloane."
Sloane beams, "Yes!"
"Then you and I need to go. I'll book a different flight, Amaya can you get us at the same hotel? If a suite isn't available, two rooms."
Janah, "Maybe we should go to Kyoto as well, we'll already be in Japan."
Amaya, "Sounds fun, I can juggle the return flight."
I go to surf flights, manage to get the last three first class spots going over. Lucky me, might have had to suffer business class. Coming back from Kyoto was simple.
Sloane, "Geez, look how fancy. It's almost like flying private."
"We get through customs faster with private, but it would cost a zillion dollars to fly private for a fourteen hour trip one way. First class passengers generally get a quicker slide through customs though, they get off first. The airlines also encourage customs to create the least hassle possible for their best customers. Japan is simple, ridiculously efficient."
"What do I wear?"
"Amaya will deck you out, you don't have to think about it."
I check in with the car service, "It's Daphne, we need a second ride to JFK in three weeks."
"Hi Daph, Miss Amaya's already called, and added a car, she said she needed to change the return date for both."
"Yeah, I have that date now," give it to him with arrival times.
That's done. Sloane is a bundle of anticipatory energy, I collect Oceane and we go to the Aquatic Center to burn some of it up diving.
Chloe, "How'd the diving go?"
"Great, we all had to get back in form, but after a few so-so dives muscle memory kicked in. Sloane went for a triple flip off the ten meter and did a butt plant, I over rotated a double twist and dunked in sideways. Oceane owns the boards, at least for an amateur. Nobody offered us college scholarships, couple of guys asked me out."
Chloe laughs, "What did you tell them?"
"In a relationship. Got a chance to have my legs admired for the price of a few minutes conversation. Nice guys, all swimmery body, guess they thought I'd fall for the muscle tone. I love muscle tone, but on somewhat different bodies."
"No shortage, all athletes and yoga girls."
Dasha, "I haf make dinner almost. Meatloaf wiz brown gravy, garlic mash potato, vegetable zoup, garden meatloaf for Janah."
"Da, same for everyone."
"Sounds like plenty, we have French bread?"
"Da, you will make garlic bread wiz Parmesan chiz sprinkle."
I kiss her cheek, "Thank you for making dinner, I'm famished after diving, we got a lot of time on the boards."
Amaya is bartendering, she hands Dasha a vodka, a shot glass for Daria, then she and Chloe's preferred mix. Wine is open on the table, Oceane pours herself a glass, one for Janah.
"Where are Nikko and Zi?"
"Be along, just leave the bottle open."
We sit around the huge dining table, a gift from Mrs. Epstein when Janah and I got our own place. Still the same place, except it's tripled in size over the years. In the beginning it was just Janah, Nikko and me. We had three bedrooms then, two of which never got much use until Janah put in a desk and used one for an office. Then Zi moved in, Amaya, Chloe, the twins, Eloise, Oceane and Sloane. Now it's eight bedrooms and full baths, an office, half bath, a workshop. The kitchen dining and living room are one big space, plus the endless pool on the roof next to Oceane's room. We also commandeered Lacy's old apartment, Amaya uses the office. It also has two bedrooms and baths, a half bath, kitchen, dining and living room. Guess if we add more family, they have a place to sleep.
Janah, "There's a Society job in Dayton Ohio."
Nikko and Zi have joined us, Nikko says, "Christ, not Shadows I hope. Guess not, they aren't Society projects."
Janah, "Shadows qualify under Society parameters, I just can't send other teams to deal with them. But no, this is a single individual, the dicey part is he's a cop."
Nikko, "I've got this one. What's his problem?"
"Abuser. It's common enough social work. Wife scared, the cop is a semi big deal, a decorated homicide detective. They know he's an asshole, but it's cops, fraternity boy attitude. Bunch of macho guys, one of them slaps his wife around a little, no big deal. Bitch is probably giving him grief about hours on the job, never at home meeting her needs. They have a list of excuses, stress, pressure, deal with jerks, druggies and everyday assholes, blah, blah. Nobody makes them take or stay on the job. If they can't handle it, do something else. It's all bullshit, they like the seamy side."
"Some of them are the seamy side."
"That's it, and he's one. He's primarily a psychological abuser. The wife is an ex-wife, he won't let go. She's got a daughter with the new husband, but she had a kid with the cop. He has joint custody. He plays great dad, but intimidates the new guy, veiled threats about the child. Not his, the other one. He beat the crap out of the new husband, but was never charged. New hubby claimed it was a mugger, it was the cop. Part of why we're on to him is he bragged about it."
Zi, "So he's getting off on a power trip, just because can?"
Nikko, "Not for long, I'm going tomorrow, Zi and Daria can handle business for a day or two. We have appointments, two of us need to be in town."
Janah, "We don't do these solo, who else can go?"
Amaya, "I'll do the driving, Dasha and Nikko can handle super cop."
Janah, "Okay. I'll call Blue Sky, go to Dayton, fix the jerk and come home. Surveillance has his routines, I'll load the report on Nikko's IPad, you can figure out what to do on the flight."
Dasha and I lay out the platters and bowls, hungry girls attack.
Janah, "Yum, great gravy girls, and the soup is rich and tangy."
"Dasha did everything, I managed garlic bread."
"Da, garlic mash, everyone likes," she turns to the counter talking to herself, 'Tomorrow fly to someplace and beat up police person who ees a nuisance, Eemaya will drive car and be sexy girl.'
Amaya, "Her train of thought switches tracks midway through a sentence. Besides, I am not going to be a sexy girl tomorrow, I am a sexy girl every moment of every day, including at night asleep."
Chloe, "I suspect she meant she has plans for you on the road."
Amaya, "Oh...well then...I shall not disappoint, never good to disappoint a psycho Marxist."
"Particularly one who prepares your food."
Amaya, "Oh God, the thought had not occurred, and we keep that toxic pharmaceutical around, what does David Li call it?"
"Oblivion, and we don't keep it here, it stays in the temple, double locked in a refrigerated vault."
"I am relieved to hear it."
Oceane, "Oblivion, disappear, annihilate, a bright white speck then black nothing."
Amaya, "What are you babbling about now?"
"The man will die."
Amaya, "What man?"
I ask, "Why do you say that Oceane?"
"I see it, him, on the floor, dead."
"How does he die?"
"His own gun."
On the plane Nikko reads the file, "Detective Stafford has a checkered career, both from the military and since he became a cop."
Amaya, "Checkered, as in bad history?"
"He was military police in the army, did a stint on the DC police force, then to Dayton. Didn't voluntarily leave the first two, but he wasn't dishonorably discharged or fired. There was a court marshal that resulted in not much except he wasn't allowed back as an MP. He had an average career in DC, rose to detective, but his solve rate was only average. Then a miracle, people started confessing like he was a priest. In fact, they gave him a nickname, the confessor."
"So he used coercion, threats, made confession appear to be the least painful option."
Nikko, "His collars frequently resisted arrest, resisted a lot, so much that they went to the hospital. Sometimes the subject under arrest found that family members started having accidents. While he was doing desk duty awaiting the result of an internal investigation, the job in Dayton came along. He checked out, DC was glad to have the problem swept to a different state."
"And his record in Dayton?"
"He learned something. Better control, pick his spots. Cases where there was no suspect he did the footwork, wrote the report, but didn't go create a suspect out of flimsy evidence. Cases where the suspect was fairly obvious, but lacking prosecution-worthy evidence, he reverted to confession at any cost."
"He got better at covering, better at intimidation, learned from his mistakes so to speak."
"Seems so. He married shortly after signing on in Dayton, he was forty, she was twenty three, thirty now. Don't have a photo of her at twenty three, but she's attractive at thirty. She wanted out, men don't leave beautiful girls, beautiful girls leave for other men, sometimes women."
"When did they split?"
"Three years, she had the second child with new husband end of the first year. Stafford's daughter with the ex is six."
Dasha, "What ees he doing?"
"The usual crap and some higher intensity crap. He tries to knock down mom with his daughter, says she cheated on him. Even told the girl her mother wanted an abortion. Other than that, he plays dear daddy, he's not physically abusive, takes her to kid movies, has her own room at his place, some interaction with other cop families. He doesn't pay court ordered child support, wife worked so there was no alimony. We have him recorded making threats when she grouses about child support. That's kind of dumb on her part, new husband has a good job, she works at a dentist’s office, they don't need child support."
"One assumes it’s for leverage, or she just likes to get him going, maybe trying to get him to do something really stupid. She winds up with full custody. The dance of divorce."
Nikko, "Good point. He's fronted the new husband several times, always alone, no witnesses. Put a gun to his balls, slapped him around, more humiliation than actual physical damage. Trashed the guy's car, a bullet though his windshield one night. His plan is to get the guy to give up the woman, get a divorce."
"He has a lot of free time."
"Homicide detective, he doesn't have to account for how he spends his day. 'Investigating' covers anything, his arrest record is acceptable, nobody's going to time clock him."
The jet descends, another great thing about private flying and executive airports, doesn't take thirty minutes of 'approach' to get the thing on the ground.
Car is waiting, Escalade Amaya, they head for Crowne Plaza, about as upscale as Dayton gets. Three rooms on the club floor, the place is busy but more efficient with club level rooms. Quick unpack, they’re in disguise light. I'd cranked out fake ID, the Escalade is rented but Transportation changed the plates to out of state and disabled the GPS. GPS not only tells you where the car is, it keeps a record of where the car has been, we don't want anyone to know where the car is or was.
They meet in Nikko's room.
"Surveillance has a tracker on the cop's car. When it moves we'll move and look for a spot to pick him off."
Dasha, "It's moving now."
"Then let's get busy."
They find him, follow. If he's investigating it must be from the car, he's just driving around.
Amaya, "Stafford needs to get a day job."
He pulls over to the curb, there's an alley. The car just sits, then a figure appears from the alley, passenger window slides down and the figure passes a fat envelope to Stafford. Whoever it is doesn't want to be recognized, long coat, gloves, big sunglasses and a hoodie. Window slides up, car pulls away.
Nikko, "If I were the suspicious type, I'd say money just changed hands."
Amaya, "Looks like Detective Stafford has a sideline. Enterprising guy, maybe he's trying to catch up on his child support."
It's getting dark, not black, the sun's near disappeared. The sedan rolls to the seedier side of Dayton. That's saying something, Dayton's crime rate is high overall, perversely rated as 'safer' than only three percent of cities in the US. He's in a neighborhood with the worst rep, North Main St. It's a bunch of crap houses and apartments, lots of dead space in between. Empty parking lots for empty or demolished buildings.
Stafford pulls to a curb and does nothing, waiting, they wait while he waits. This kind of place, they know cop cars by sight, sound and smell. Nobody approaches.
Nikko, "He's waiting on something, we're too far away and I don't want to get closer and spook him. Keep a visual, I'm going to creep up on the creep."
She exits the car, slinks down the street, deep shadow side. I can see through her eyes, even though I'm in Manhattan. Nikko's twenty yards from Stafford's car, pulled into an alcove that used to house a dumpster.
A black BMW eases around the corner, Stafford's sedan is out of its line of sight. The BMW curbs, a single black male exits, so does Stafford, behind and to his left. Stafford is within ten feet when the man turns, a shout, the man turns to run, Stafford shoots him in the back, the man falls forward. Stafford walks to him and puts a bullet in the back of his head, turns and goes to his car, fires it up and drives away. Nikko clicks off her camera, returns to the car and they pick up Stafford's trail again.
Nikko, "Cop in the hit business."
Dasha, "We will get him now."
Nikko, "So we shall. Amaya, do your thing, stay out of sight, we have him on GPS."
Unfortunately for Detective Stafford, he's now in a video in Nikko's phone cam. One of the ones Eloise juiced up to near film quality. He's in for a long stretch of prison.
Amaya, "We have him, what do you want to do?"
Nikko, "Can't help myself, I have to chat with this prick."