Chapter Ninety Seven

Our young sensations are sensational for a couple of weeks, a long shelf life in Manhattan time. They’re happy to be off the radar. Even at the diner, regulars habituate, the girls are part of Thursday and Friday, the crazed spike of new settles into full, lines still there, shorter, less wait. In New York, a line out the door in a city with eleven thousand restaurants means somebody likes something.
Dasha has six variations, mixes up the sides occasionally, a limit of hot plates makes inventory control more manageable. Daria can predict what is enough without overflow into too much. Restaurants have a lot of waste, good inventory control is essential or you toss your profits into the dumpster. Mini is scrupulous about freshness and quality, nothing stays that’s close to expiration, there’s no day old pastry.
The girls work free, and although Chuck insists we don’t pay for food, we also don’t abuse the privilege. We’re not there any more or less than before, we don’t go Friday’s and take up a booth in an already packed restaurant. Besides, we made the same things at home long before Dasha introduced them to the diner.
In fact, it’s a Friday morning now, Chloe is off getting photographed for the millionth time, Amaya is with her, Nikko and Zi are at their office. With the twins at the diner, Janah and I take off early for the temple. While she parks in her office for a meeting with the masters, then Society phone dings, I go to the garden and check in with David Li and Manolo.
Manolo, “Master Sylk! It is good to see you, how are the girls?”
“Busy as Shaolin monks. Today is specials day at the diner, I’ll have two tired young ladies this afternoon.”
Manolo, “We heard about their success, I read about them in the Times. Between Ms. Chloe and the twins, monks are rubbing shoulders with New York celebrities. Our female monks go to Chloe’s fan page to keep up with the latest news, I confess, so do I. If the twins make a page, they will be even more famous than they are now.”
“I don’t think fame is on their agenda. Chloe stumbled into her following because of Mayumi and Katsumi, Amaya is responsible for the fashion advice. Chloe would be in jeans and a t-shirt left on her own. The fans are so enthusiastic, and Amaya will not tolerate sloppiness, Chloe goes along. She is most appreciative of her good fortune.”
Manolo, “She is bodhisattva, her gratitude is limitless.”
We never said anything to the monks about Chloe’s innate nature, they simply see what others miss out of inattention or limitation. Shamen, as in the plural of shaman, see what others don’t because their minds are open to possibility, they have no mental barrier, no bias. Shaolin are shamen in that way. A shaman doesn’t become one by mysticism so much as diligence, earnestness. He or she persists through doubts, consciously avoids preconceptions, always looking behind the curtain. Gung fu, the physical training we undertake, is one way to begin. At first,  a movement seems almost impossible, then you break it into pieces and perform the first bit, then the second, then the third. Repeat. In time, you exceed yourself and move to the next challenge. It is this way with any skill, mental or physical, as Nisargadatta said, ‘There is nothing that cannot be attained with practice.’ He’s right.
David Li comes from the herbarium, “Master Sylk, please, come and see what Manolo and I have cooked up for you.”
I follow him inside, herbarium is my name for his organic laboratory. The days of a few burners, pans of herbs and pots boiling away, are gone. Things still need to be cooked, but that happens in stainless steel controlled temperature boilers, the leaves, stems or roots sit in a filter basket, the heat does it’s work, then the basket removed, contents added to the composting container. Turn a handle, the liquid drains into bottles, the boiler has a self cleaning function, turn that on, purified water fills the tank, it heats to boiling, drains, ready to go again. There are three refrigerators and a freezer, a drying room to speed up the drying process, think of a sauna with drying racks. Some essences are even distilled, if you looked at the device, you might think he’s making whiskey. The entire temple is solar powered, we use either sunshine or LED lighting, no more candles. I wonder if Janah and I could have learned to use our hands to light a bulb instead of a candle?
David Li picks up a flask, pours the liquid in a small bottle and hands it to me, “This should significantly reduce the time in mental rearranging of your targets. And Master J won’t have to expend near the amount of energy. It erases memory by inhibiting neuronal capacity. One cc will leave the subject disoriented, confused, memories will be partial, incomplete, even mixed with completely different memories.”
Of course, everyone does a version of this now. We think we decided what college to attend, when in fact our parents chose and overrode our decision. Met a spouse in junior year, not freshman. The list of confabulated memories is endless. Meet up with a coworker from ten years ago, your recollection of what boss did what, or who handled what project, will conflict with his recollection.
David Li continues, “The drug magnifies that effect. After ten ccs, they may essentially be blank. I’m not sure, it’s not something we can test.”
“Is it permanent?”
David Li, “I think so. It’s possible bits and pieces will return in some semblance of order, but once the brain accepts the new, confused memory, it believes that is the correct one. The new tracks it lays down will lead to dead ends.”
“Awesome.”
He has another bottle in the refrigerator, takes it out and hands it to me, “Both should remain refrigerated and in dark bottles, it is fine to have them out for a day or two, but they will lose efficacy if left unrefrigerated any longer. Of course, they should be room temperature when injected.”
“What does it do?”
David Li, “It’s an advanced version of something we gave you last year. A kind of rohypnol, but without the grogginess. Sometimes you don’t need targets fuzzy, you want them alert, but completely compliant and suggestible. This one we did test. Five ccs of this and you can literally talk the target into anything.”
“Even, say, killing themselves?”
Manolo, “I took it, as did some of the monks. I would have done anything David Li suggested, no question. It lasts, depending on dosage and bodyweight, fifteen to twenty minutes.”
“Wow. More than enough time to get passwords, names, account numbers. It’s going to save us a ton of time. How long does it take to kick in?”
“Minutes, less than five. The memory delete drug needs up to a half hour.”
“Janah spends hours wiping a target’s memory, and she’s depleted for a day after.”
“The bottles are marked, M for memory, S for suggestibility.”
“Probably best to inject the right thing.”
“Dosages are on the label.”
“Janah says thank you. You have made remarkable strides in pain relief, the liniment we have now sucks the pain away almost immediately, bruises disappear, cuts heal in double time. We still use qi, but having a quickie option is helpful in our more, um, ‘active’ pursuits.”
“You will want to keep those skills in practice. Qi skill may degenerate without regular application.”
“Complacency has costs I’d rather not have to pay.”
“You still use the owl’s skills then.”
“And the eagle’s. They said the changes are permanent, I don’t rely on that though. Dasha and I crush rocks, hang from a set of still rings we installed. We may have the only apartment in Manhattan with still rings. When we go to the roof at night, or walk around town, we make it a point to notice the dark corners. Once we were staring down a dark alley and chatting about what we saw. We got caught up and didn’t notice a half dozen people behind us trying to figure out what we were doing talking about rats and bits of paper they couldn’t see.”
Manolo laughs, “What did you tell them?”
“When I realized they were there, I said we were framing a shot for a video and guessing what might be in the alley. I’ve found that as long as you offer an explanation, people buy it. Has to be reasonable, if I’d said we were looking though our owl eyes, we’d have been chalked up as whacko. Might have been more fun though.”
I thank David and Manolo again, go to our room and change, then to the practice ground and spend an hour getting pummeled by compassionate monks. After a shower and back into my robe, we have lunch, then walk back to the apartment.
Janah, “I suggest we fool around.”
“Excellent, am I doing you or are you doing me? I’m up for either.”
Janah, “I’m up for both, let’s shed the robes, I get to go first, then I want you to toy up and take me missionary.”
Frolic and a nap, then it’s tea time.

Chapter Ninety Eight

We’re out strolling around, Janah, the twins and me, Chloe and Amaya are doing geisha things, Nikko and Zi are at work, dear things. It is mid morning, a bright sunny day in Manhattan. We gravitate to Washington Square Park, plop on benches, the girls are reading auras.
Dasha, “Daria says that one,” she points to a middle aged man in a suit, sitting on the steps that lead down to the fountain pool, “ees not so gud now.”
“Not so good like sick?”
Dasha, “Not sick, does not feel gud in head. Sad.”
Janah walks over and sits next to him on the step, he glances over at her, she smiles, “Lovely day today.”
He goes for smile, only makes it to grimace, “Hadn’t noticed.”
Janah, “You’re preoccupied.”
He’s quiet for a time, then, “Sometimes I think I’m losing my mind, or I should say, sometimes I wish I would lose my mind.”
Janah, “You want to forget something.”
He stares at his feet, “I wish it was just something, I’d like to forget everything.”
Janah wonders about the comment, he seems down, but Dasha said sad, not depressed, or darker, suicidal.”
Janah, “Sounds like the memory trap.”
His lip curls up, not in anger, irony, “I feel trapped in my head, is that what you mean?”
Janah, “Kind of, tell me, if you will, what trapped in your head means to you.”
“It hit me this morning. Every night, and often during the day, old business pops in my head, for no reason. It’s never happy stuff, just a bad memory, nothing dramatic, not like my mom died, which she has, or my kid got badly injured, which hasn’t happened. It’s little stuff. Stupid stuff I did, or things I should have done but didn’t, embarrassments, humiliations, blurted out idiocies, thoughtless decisions.”
Janah, “But something hit you this morning that made it worse.”
He looks over at her, “Yeah. It hit me that every experience I recall, from grade school, through college, my working career, my marriages, two, all come with negative memories attached. How I wimped out to a bully in elementary school, how I made an ass of myself on a ski trip, my mediocre college career, work failures. I’ve had successes, and if I sit and work on it, I recall those. But it’s depressing to have every association, songs, signs, places, things, bring out a negative memory. It happens all the time.”
Janah, “I understand.”
“Does it happen to you?”
Janah, “It happens to everyone but the deluded. Makes me think a little delusion isn’t so bad.”
He smiles, then a short laugh, “It’s my brain, seems like I ought to have better control over it.”
Janah, “Your brain controls you, not the other way round.”
“Ugh, another depressing thought.”
Janah, “How so?”
“If you’re right, we have no freedom.”
Janah, “Well, at least you don’t have to think about every heartbeat, every breath, every step you take. Your brain does all that for you.”
“But I’m still trapped in my head.”
Janah, “And in your head are thoughts, many of them ones you don’t want.”
“Most of them some days. Why in hell do I wake up at night with the same stupid memories? They never leave.”
Janah, “Why do they trouble you?”
“Many are embarrassing, some are regrets, things that should have turned out better, or different. They jump in my head and I relive the same old crap over and over.”
Janah, “You use words like embarrassment, humiliation, regret, bad and should. What if you didn’t label the memories?”
“What do you mean? A bad memory is a bad memory.”
Janah, “Only if we think so, that’s where freedom comes in.”
The man thinks about it, “You are saying if I don’t call it bad, or give it a negative connotation, it goes away?”
Janah, “I don’t know if it will go away, I doubt it should go away. But if you relabel it, to funny, or even something less negative, dopey, or just neutral, human, something that happened to the person you were then, you take the steam out of it, smooth the edge.”
“Hmmm, you may be on to something. Better if I could erase it though.”
Janah, “Maybe not. Experiences we recall from the past help us avoid the same dopey behavior today. They need not be labeled horrible memories so much as reminders. First, not to do it again, second, they remind us we have faults, there are no water walkers. We are flawed, all of us.”
“Walk me through this, it’s starting to make sense.”
Janah, “You see something on the street, or on a TV program, or around the house, your brain makes an association to something in the past, or you just have a dream and wake up to the memory, then start ruminating over it. That’s what happens, yes?”
“That’s exactly what happens.”
Janah, “Soon as the feeling arises that you want to call embarrassing, stupid, ugly, bad, catch yourself, that’s the free part, smile, thank the memory for reminding you, for trying to save you from being goofy again, then smile some more. You can’t be unhappy and genuinely smile.”
“That I wish hadn’t happened, shouldn’t have happened.”
Janah, “If it hadn’t happened then, and you didn’t feel ridiculous about it, you could easily the same error in a worse situation. For all you can know, the small mistake saved you from a far greater one, it’s called learning. Besides, everything that happened should have happened. I know that because that’s what happened. If something else should have happened, it would have.”
“One way to look at it.”
Janah, “How else can we look at it? It’s easy to take our experience now and say we could have applied it then, but if we could have, we would have. If you soften the label, you soften the feeling. Alternatively, feel the feeling without naming it, see what happens.”
“I get the soften part, what is feeling without naming?”
Janah, “Next time you sense a feeling arise, anger for instance, don’t call it anything, don’t allow yourself to call it anger, just sit with it. Can you feel anger if you don’t call it anger, or anything?”
“I don’t know.”
Janah, “Of course you don’t, you haven’t tried it, too busy making hostile labels.”
He laughs, “There is something in what you say, it almost sounds too simple. But I won’t draw yet another conclusion, make another label. It’s not denial, you don’t ask me to pretend it didn’t happen, rather to accept it, and at the least not be so hard on myself. I’ll give it a serious go, I’m really tired of calling myself stupid.”
Janah, “That’s it. Cut the labels off everything and put them where they belong, in the trash.”
He stands, “Thank you young lady. I was wondering why I was here when I should have been at work. Now I realize I should have been here.”
Janah, “Enjoy this beautiful day, it’s okay to label things positively by the way.”
He smiles, “Are you a therapist or something? You have a knack for this.”
Janah, “Nope, just a city girl…one who is supposed to be here with you.”
He grins, nods, walks south, out of the park, I hear him humming.
It’s moving on to lunch, we decide on Mr. Vitali’s cart, wait our turn on line, order our dogs, a veggie for Janah, get water and sodas and walk over to the concrete wall behind the Jamaicans.
Juju, “Ah, de Seelk, de mambo and de twin voodoo queens, how’s tings?”
“Good. Great day for enjoying Vitali’s on the street, how’s business?”
“Mos’ scocious, everyone in a good mood wit’ de good wedda.”
Scocious is his slang for excellent.
Juju continues, “You gonna go home after lunch?”
“Yes.”
“Take dis’ bag, I got new items, Amaya can look dem over, see what goes on de Night Rain table. We runnin’ low on her stuff and it’s de mos’ profitable.”
“You mean the most profitable after the stuff you got accidentally.”
Mighty Jim rumbles his big Caribe laugh, “Amazin’ what fall off de truck. Happen a coupla times a month. Timothy, Quiet man, dey just walk by, box on de ground, truck gone. What dey come up on loose, we put to good use.”
Dasha is digging through the bag, pulls out two hair clips, silver, nice filigree work, “Dahfoney, you will buy for us.”
Juju, “No girl, my gift to you. Gift to voodoo queen, good juju for Juju.”
I clip them to the girls’ hair, “Nice, look how cute, thank you Juju.”
Daria is staring down the street, Dasha looks up at me, “Man ees to take lady’s purse,” Daria is already on the run.
Mighty Jim flies out behind her, Daria gets to the woman, then alongside, the man, slim, goatee, baseball cap, aiming to get between her and the woman, his hand out for the purse. Daria raises her palm, he flies backwards and lands butt side down on the concrete.
The woman clutches her purse, frozen, “He was going to grab my purse,” looks at Daria, “where did you come from? How did you know?”
Daria blinks at her, the skinny guy is shouting, “Fuckin’ kid pushed me down for no reason,” he starts to stand, Mighty Jim pulls him up by the front of his shirt, not gently, it rips open, Jim takes him by the throat.
“I see you try to steal de purse, try to push de girl too,” he sticks his huge fist in the man’s face, it’s near half the size of his head, Skinny’s eyes bulge, “I see you roun’ here, eva’, you make de hospital, eef you lucky. Now get gone, an’ don’ look back, don’ come back,” he releases his grip.
The punk looks down at his bare chest, there’s a fat bruise dead center on his sternum, “Look, shit, she punched me, Christ, it hurts.”
Mighty Jim, “Hurt worse you don’t haul ass, bitch,” he pushes the guy backwards, the man stands for a second, Jim lunges forward a half step, goatee turns and runs.
The woman is staring at Daria,  who’s already started back towards us, she tells Jim, “She didn’t touch him, he fell backwards like he’d slammed a wall, and that bruise…”
Jim, “He got dat someplace else, somebody bust his sorry self.”
“But he fell down.”
Jim, “De girl she raise her hand, he stop too quick, back up and fall over, simple as dat.”
The woman looks incredulous, but nothing else makes sense, the big man sounds sure, she buys it, “Well, thank you anyway, I need to thank the girl. She didn’t seem fazed by any of it.”
Jim, “I tell her for you, you okay?”
“I’m fine, shaken, my heart’s racing a little, but I’m fine. Do you think he’s gone?”
Jim, “He turn de corner, you walkin’ dat way, maybe you get a cab.”
“Good idea, but I only work three blocks over, still…”
Jin looks down the street, a taxi turns the corner, he waves it over, there’s a small crowd of onlookers disbursing, the taxi pulls to the curb.
Jim opens the back door, tells the driver, “Dis lady, some jerk tried to steal her purse, she’s a little shaky. It’s only a tree’ block ride mon, but we don’ know where de punk went, she need to be safe.”
The driver says, “No sweat, hop in lady, no charge.”
She climbs in the rear seat, Jim says, “Tanks, good mon’ for helpin’ out.”
The driver nods, slips the taxi into traffic.
He returns to the table, tells Daria, “Nice piece of work, girl.”
Juju, “I tol you mon’, dese girls, dey jus’ like Janah…mambo. You don’ mess wit’ dem or dey take care of beezness, hardly lift a finger, powerful juju.”
“Thank you for jumping in, Mighty Jim.”
“Got to, girl might kill de chump. Don’ mind if she do, but den’ we got de cops, got to shut down for de day, bad for beezness.”
“Dahfoney, we go home now.”
We say our goodbyes, as we walk off I hear Might Jim telling the others, “De girl, she don touch dat guy, he got a fat bruise smack in de middle of his skinny ass chest.”
Juju, “Be happy dey friends, don’ want to make enemy of mambo.”
Janah, “Surprised you stayed out of it.”
“I started to, but it’s Daria, Jim jumped in, I would have been overkill. And it’s good to let the girls see a man do something for a woman, not just to one.”


Chapter Ninety Nine

We recap the story at tea, Nikko and Zi congratulate Daria for her attentiveness, her fearlessness is a given, nothing to congratulate.
Dasha, “Beeg Mighty Jeem ran to help sister, he ees gud.”
“They have looked out for us since forever, and we have fun jiving with them. Cripes, how long have we known them Janah?”
Janah, “We were just teens, you knew them before I came along. So in people years, over twenty.”
“Yeah, they’re in their forties now, hawking their stuff on that corner, telling each other the same stories, Juju running his patter for the shoppers, Jim keeping an eye out with Timothy and Quiet Man.”
Nikko, “They there today? You didn’t mention them.”
“No, they generally come on weekends when it’s busier, or around holidays, people get a lot of stuff for presents. The other days they are doing their own shopping. They are responsible for, um, inventory.”
Zi, “What does that mean?”
“Some of their stuff comes from knockoff wholesalers, they go around, pick up new things, replenish good sellers when they can. Other stuff comes from more dubious vendors.”
Zi, “You mean it’s stolen.”
“Can’t prove it by me. Maybe a guy owes a guy money. He doesn’t have money, but he has merchandise. The guy doesn’t want merchandise, he wants money. Timothy and Quiet man take the merchandise off his hands and give him money. Or a wholesaler or retailer is going out of business, the Jamaicans make an offer, cents on the dollar. The only difference between their business and any business is taxes. The Jamaicans don’t collect tax, they don’t pay tax.”
Amaya, “Why isn’t the city on their case?”
“Not worth the trouble. Small time prosecution, ties up the system, cops are all running around looking for terrorists. If they do start to nose around, a few select items for the cop’s wife or his kids keeps them happy.”
Amaya, “Bribery.”
“So judgmental. It’s called supplemental pay, for the dangerous work of ferreting out terrorists.”
“Understandable, thank you, Daphne.”
Dasha, “Juju geev us souplemeental pay today, see Eemaya?” She points to her hair clip.
Amaya, “What terrorists did you find?”
“Daria protect woman from terrorist.”
“The story was, and I recall exactly, Juju gave you that before the incident.”
“He pay souplemeental for looking, not only finding.”
We laugh, Amaya huffs, “You are being unduly and poorly influenced by Daphne and her ridiculous Daphinity.”
Dasha looks at her sister, then, “Eemaya, you will teach us more now to be American girls. Daria is already finished learning, ‘thank you, have a nice day, we appreciate beezness, come back soon,’ smile like idiot. Now we are to learn making chitting and chatting, ‘how you do, so hahppy to meet you, how you can be helped,’ like that.”
Chloe giggles, “You have your mission, beloved.”
“Come along girls, and Dasha, drop that accent immediately, you cannot charm me with it like you do Dahfoney, do not waste your breath. At least Daria doesn’t pretend to be fresh off the boat.”
Dasha blinks up at me, holds out her smooth cheek, “You will kiss me Dahfoney, then we go leessen to Eemaya bahloney.”
Amaya, “Ah-my-ya, immigrant terrorist.”
I kiss soft skin, “Do your work, dearest one. I’ll make a dinner plan.”
Chloe stands with Daria, kisses the top of her head, “You did well today precious, we are proud of you.”
Daria’s non expression never changes, “Nice to meet you, have a nice day, how can I help you, thank you for coming, was everything good, blah, blah, blah.”
We laugh until we cry, Amaya stands, hands on her hips like a fussy governess, “I do not know why I bother, now you have Daria as incorrigible as Dasha, go girls, up to your room before my work is completely undone.”
We’re still laughing as Amaya follows the twins up the steps.
Janah, “She’s made so much progress with them. That Daria can actually make fun of it is a sign she’s captured the idea. They’ll never be Miss Manners, but they will fake it marvelously, thanks to Amaya.”
Chloe, “She adores them, she also loves playing the frustrated teacher and the girls give her lots of opportunities for drama.”
Nikko, “I’m for anything that keeps your darling sociopaths from murdering us in our sleep.”
“Well, as Juju said today, ‘don’ want to make enemy of mambo,’ his superstition is closer to the truth than he knows.”
I hear one of Janah’s phones, she answers, “Ah, of course I remember Don Francisco, yes, I have a moment.”
There’s a pause, then Calderon is on.
Janah, “Don Calderon, nice to hear from you, Paloma is adjusting to life in the states?”
She listens, “I am delighted to hear it, The marriage sounds like a good match. We wish her every happiness.”
I decide to tune in, certain she isn’t getting this call just to announce his daughter’s wedding plans.
Calderon, “Gracias Senorita, the wedding is in a month, and I wish to extend an invitation to you and your friends. There is, however, another matter, not so happy.”
Nailed it, Janah says, “Sorry to hear it, what is troubling you?”
“You mentioned that you have an interest in abuse of women and children, do I recall correctly?”
 “You do.”
“It has come to my attention that some of my less honorable countrymen are smuggling in women and their children to the US with the promise of uniting with their husbands, or, in the case of the unmarried, finding new husbands and jobs in the states. Of course, it is all lies. The women are sold, or forced into prostitution or become drug mules, their children held hostage as a guarantee of compliance. Desperate women, living on the streets of Mexico City are gullible, and will believe anything if they think their children can escape the slums.”
“Sad. What can we do?”
“My business interests do not reach into either drugs or prostitution. I have no resources to deal with such men. I know bits and pieces from the priest who is to preside at the marriage of Paloma and Miguel. A few women manage to escape their captors, the first thing they do is run to the church, their only hope.
Some have no children, some were separated from their children when they came across the border. Where the children go, he does not know.”
“Have the women been able to provide any clues, who is involved, how they came in, anything?”
“A name came up, the priest asked questions. He was attacked one night at the church shortly after. The attackers told him that priests should stick to hearing confession and conducting mass, nothing else was said.”
“Pretty obvious what it was about.”
“No doubt. I am disgusted by these people, I know families affected by this type of man, their lives a miserable day to day existence, then a ray of hope, only to be made worse, much worse. Is it the kind of thing that you look into, senorita?”
“Exactly the thing we look into, Jeffe.”
“My associates and I will fund your expenses, and Paloma and I will be delighted to see you and your friends at the wedding and reception if you are able to attend. I would put you up at my home, but you can imagine we are almost overflowing with relatives already, will the Rosewood do?”
“I appreciate your generosity, I am also certain that wedding expenses are already substantial. We have resources that fund our work, it is no problem for us. What is the date of the wedding?”
Calderon gives her a Saturday three weeks from today, the name of the church, the reception will be at his home.
“The name of the priest, same church as the wedding?”
“Father Jimenez, yes the Church of the Ascension.”
“People will be in contact with him in the next couple of days. Please let him know. They will introduce themselves only as the investigators, no names. He should give them every possible detail, and let them talk to the women under his protection. The investigators will speak Spanish. Our people will disappear and do their jobs. Tell Father Jimenez that the work they do does not involve asking questions that might lead back to him, or to the women. They only do surveillance. If they put names and faces on suspects, it will only come back to us.”
“Jimenez is a good man, he will do his duty. He’s intimidated though, he was beaten, not viciously, enough to give him a taste of future consequences. He also fears for the women in sanctuary at his church. They are all illegal, is this a difficulty?”
“None. We have no interest in imaginary borders, abused women and children all fall under our purview. We don’t travel internationally for a simple reason, too much work here in the states.”
“A pity, this is so ugly, my daughter being accosted made me sick and angry. My own home has to be a fortress and I am not in any illegal business.”
“I don’t think we ever discussed your business.”
“I have factories in Mexico that make car parts. We pay our workers a fair scale, they have medical benefits, cheap enough in Mexico. They work reasonable hours and are paid overtime if a big order comes in. I am able to live a comfortable life, I do not need to exploit working people.”
“I am glad to hear it. Depending on what our investigators bring in, we will be in Santa Fe no later than a week prior to the wedding. We will not be traveling as ourselves you understand?”
“Understood.”
“Prior to the wedding, I will send you names and photographs of whoever we are. I’m guessing you will have security, they will need to have a list.”
“You are very thorough.”“Keeps things orderly, orderly helps keep us and the innocent safe.”
“As soon as I hang up, I will call Father Jimenez, hasta entonces, senorita.”
“Si, Jeffe, hasta entonces.”
Guess we’re going to Santa Fe otra vez.

Chapter One Hundred

Over the next week, data trickles in. Surveillance talked to the priest and four women. Our team speaks Spanish, two seniors, a harmless looking man and woman, no black leather jackets, no cigarettes dangling from the lip, no fedora or even a trench coat. Jeans and sneakers, friendly, good listeners, patient.
The priest has only vague descriptions, two men, medium height, dark hair, Latin American. He said they spoke Mexican Spanish, a less highly regarded version of the original. I looked up the Wiki, there are a lot of subtle differences in the manner of pronunciation, different word order for questions. It’s only important as it defines the men as from Mexico, likely Mexico City, and a fair amount of time in the US.
The women were more helpful. They recalled pick up and drop off points, names the men used, better descriptions. Surveillance brought in two more teams, filmed a drop off, photos, then did the next thing they do, followed. That led to a bar where men who appeared to be in charge came and went. The bar is in the name of a woman, tracing her uncovered that she likely doesn’t even know how to get to it. They obviously paid her to get a license, maybe regular cash income, she’s happy, they have a home base with nothing in their names.
Zi, “Isn’t she at risk, if there’s a fire, or a shooting? She’s the owner.”
Janah, “She doesn’t think about that, she thinks about money for nothing. I’m assuming they got someone in need, not too bright, and if the thing blows up, she declares bankruptcy, or they make her disappear and no one is liable. Besides, it’s in their best interest to keep the place clean, obey the codes, they don’t need either the health department or the alcohol police nosing around.”
Nikko, “Zi and I didn’t make the last trip, we’re going on this one.”
Janah, “We have two, two bedroom suites at the Rosewood Inn, upscale and we enjoyed it last time out. Weapons and drugs travel ahead of us, already en route to Santa Fe, except for katana. I know you don’t want them in the hands of delivery people, even our own.”
Nikko, “Our swords are worth maybe five thousand, but the real value is the history through my family. We could use good swords costing far less, but my father wouldn’t expect me to hang the ones he gave us on a wall. If they get damaged or stolen, it would be regrettable, more regrettable to use them as mere decoration.”
Janah, “Time to prep, plane leaves tomorrow at eight.”
We’d already dyed hair and arranged the makeup we will use. Had to for the travel documents. The bulk of today is packing and organizing. It’s a bit bigger than usual, we need nice outfits for the wedding. All of us except Nikko and Zi went last time, we resemble the women we looked like then, even use the same names. Despite the passage of time, the hotel will know we’d been before and were polite, generous guests. First class places keep those sorts of notes, if you were rude, didn’t tip the staff, or trashed the room, you could find the atmosphere Siberian on your return. You may find that there is no vacancy, for you anyway. The bellman, housekeeping, front desk, restaurant and room service staff all talk to each other. You are better remembered than you think, hotels were doing Big Data before Big Data was Big Data.
We arrive in Santa Fe, private jet, efficiency rules. Our cars are waiting, Tahoes this time, have a fair amount of luggage and eight girls, I drive the second, then we’re unpacking in our suites. They’d fed us on the plane, we opt for a light room service lunch at one. It’s a planning lunch, not a discussion we’d want to have in a restaurant.
Janah, “Let’s recap. We only know a few names, we have photos of delivery men, we know the bar and who they see, Ernesto Gutierrez. He has an arrest record, not for trafficking, he did time for a small drug deal, a burglary arrest, charges dropped, assault and battery, charges dropped, claimed self defense, the two witnesses recanted. His arrests weren’t in Santa Fe, not even in New Mexico. He hasn’t been in trouble here.”
Zi, “They don’t appear to be a gang, at least there’s no colors, no name.”
“No, shows intelligence. Gangs stupidly pin a bull’s-eye on themselves for law enforcement. If you want to control territory, painting graffiti or hanging baby shoes from light posts might sound sexy, but it doesn’t insure that other gangs stay out. More like it shows where other gangs need to infiltrate. It’s like thinking a border is going to stop invading armies.”
“Surveillance is still at work. They’re tracking locations where women or children are warehoused. Children are immediately separated from mom, it gets the mothers compliant in a hurry, strung along in the hope they will be reunited.”
Amaya, “Do we know the downstream pipeline?”
“Surveillance is following that trail. Obviously the market isn’t Santa Fe. Vans or cars take women, others children, leave town. We have teams following as best we can, it’s not like we have squadrons of personnel. The good news is, three deliveries have all gone to the same place, Denver. One went to Dallas, one to LA. It’s dicey business, border agents have checkpoints in New Mexico and Arizona. Records indicate the occasional discovery, a car with undocumented occupants, a van with boxes of clothes, two of which had kids inside. Most of the deliveries get through.”
Nikko, “Have you decided an approach?”
“We didn’t have Gutierrez until the day before yesterday. We know a little about the bar from the inside. It’s low key much of the week, busy on Friday, busier on Saturday. They don’t make an effort to attract crowds, no Wednesday drink specials, no bands, only a sound system.  Pool tables, big screen TVs show soccer matches in Spanish. Seems better to me to go in on a slow night, as far as we’ve researched, that’s when the field guys go to see Gutierrez anyway. Might as well get them along with him.”
Amaya, “They carry guns?”
“Haven’t seen any, always assume the answer is yes though.”
Nikko, “Just to be clear, why don’t we hand the locals the evidence or feed it to the media?”
“Delays and effect. Stories get around about what happened. The targets have more to fear from us than they do of the police, we don’t have court, they don’t get lawyers. If the authorities can’t directly tie the men doing the field work to Gutierrez, the big fish walks. And we aren’t even sure he’s the biggest fish. These guys don’t roll over on their bosses. They do, they have a short prison life if they even make it to prison. If they’re illegals themselves, it takes years and they could just be deported back to a place where they can bribe their way out. They roll over for us because we torture them or fry their brains with drugs and they don’t even realize they’re giving it up.”
“Back to the plan. Do we have enough on the bar, or should a couple of us visit?”
Janah, “We have the layout, I don’t see what showing our faces accomplishes.”
Nikko, “Is there a back door, must be.”
“Yes. Gutierrez has an office down a hall, past the restrooms. The door at the end of the hall has a peephole, no doubt someone on the other side checks people out. Gutierrez parks in the rear of the building, he goes in and out that way. Driver is always with him, fat guy, bouncer attitude, thick leather jacket, under which it’s safe to say is a gun. Gutierrez likely has a weapon in his office, he doesn’t carry when he’s out.”
Zi, “Where’s he live? Maybe the bar isn’t the answer. We can get to the others at a drop off point.”
Janah, “That’s a thought. We don’t get all the field operators at his place anyway, we are going to have to do some of it at the drop offs regardless.”
Amaya, “Who is on first.”
Daria, “Well, what are you askin' me for?”
Amaya, “I'm not asking you--I'm telling you. Who is on first.”
Daria, “I'm asking you--who's on first?”
Amaya, “That's the man's name.”
Daria, “That's who's name?”
Amaya, “Yes.”
Chloe is giggling, Janah and I laugh.
Dasha, “We watch on YouTube, Daria says ees gud, Ah-but Costello, she meemorize whole thing.”
Zi, “What is it?”
Amaya and Daria both say, “What’s on second.”
Zi stares, we’re laughing harder.
Nikko, “Ancient comic routines, I’ll show you later. If you two are done screwing around, maybe we can firm up a plan.”
Janah, “Daria makes a joke, amazing.”
“Who knows what ticks in that brain?”
“You mean when he’s not playing first.”
“This could go on all night.”

Nikko, “Cut the crap.”
Janah and I laugh, quizzical looks from the others.
Janah, “Back to business. Gutierrez lives outside the city limits, on what looks like a ranch. There are horses anyway, a barn. It isn’t huge, not a drug lord’s compound. He has a housekeeper, fat boy is around, once a woman came, left later that night. If she’s any indicator, he goes for big hair big tits, typical infantile regression. He makes no pretense of sophistication, jeans, boots, western shirt and a ten gallon hat.”
Nikko, “I didn’t like him before, now I really don’t like him.”
Dasha, “Why ees teen gahlons?”
Janah, “Couple of versions, one is that it was big enough to hold ten gallons of water, but they clearly don’t, the other story is a misunderstood Spanish term that refers to the trim and the width of a Mexican sombrero. That’s all I know, I don’t even know why I know that.”
“Ees stupid name.”
Nikko, “We’re talking about everything but the job.”
Janah, “It’s coming together. Amaya asked the right question, do we grab the field guys, or go for Gutierrez first?”
Nikko, “If  we take out one group first, we might be okay, but after the second, they are going to know something’s wrong. We want as many as possible, but he’s the top of the heap as far as we know. If we don’t get him, we waste the best chance to put an end to it.”
“There are more of us than we need to get to Gutierrez, maybe we do him and one field group, then see what’s what.”
Nikko, “Good, that makes sense. No matter what, we have something. The others are going to go to ground quickly.”
Janah, “Surveillance knows where everyone is. If we do Gutierrez and one group, get them parked, we should be able to get to some of two and three. They aren’t all dropping off women and children every night. We may not even be able to coordinate Gutierrez and one of the others, At least not with him at home.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. If a group is handing women, don’t they always report the result to Gutierrez, and doesn’t that happen at the bar?”
Janah, “That appears to be the system, he looks like he keeps this business away from his home. I should have registered that in the first place.”
“That’s why we have these discussions, to get it sorted out.”
Nikko, “Then we are left with taking Gutierrez on a night when he’s at home, which means there’s no trafficking going on, at least no drop off. Fine. We get him parked, we start in on the others. Maybe we catch him during the day, and it just so happens there’s a drop off that night. Won’t Surveillance know if a group has left town?”
Janah, “Of course, I must have left some neurons at home. Once we deal with Gutierrez, Surveillance gives us locations of the others. They don’t bring in people by the dozens, it’s usually three or four. Traveling with trucks full of people is high risk. Okay, we’re narrowing this down, during Gutierrez, the rest of us will go to the children’s location. Get the guards handled and the kids out. Depending on who finishes first, we go to the women. After that, we start in on field guys. Are we on the same page?”
Nikko, “How do we divide up? We need people who can mental at least one other in each group.”
Janah, “Let’s see. I need to see Gutierrez. Amaya should drive one car, but I think her skills might come in handier in the field. I don’t see the need at the house, Daphne and you took the same tactical driving training, one of you can drive the other car. Suppose I go with Daphne, Dasha and Chloe. Amaya, Nikko, Zi, and Daria go to the kids?”
Amaya, “Chloe will be better with the kids.”
“That’s true, and it gives us two Sensitives with them as well. Good, Daphne and I will take the twins. We only have three people at the house and one is a housekeeper. If he has a visitor, it won’t matter.”
Nikko, “I want to see the locations personally.”
Janah, “Yes, and we can divide up for that as well. You can see the house through us, we can see the kids and the women’s locations through you. May not even be necessary, points of attack are likely obvious.”
“We ought to go now, still daylight, and if there’s something we don’t know, better to find out now.”
Janah, “Then let’s get on the move.”

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