Chapter One Hundred Five
After four days the fun has to end, so good to have parents and friends visit, meet our new family member. They have things to do, as do we, and they fly off to do them.
Sloane, "I have grandparents now. That's so cool. Susan said I could visit anytime, it's gonna be fun to go to New York, see where my mom grew up."
"Most of your family grew up there, Janah and I were born there, so was Eloise, Nikko came as an infant. The twins, Chloe and Amaya came when they were young. You've seen our home there, on the IPad anyway."
"Where do I sleep?"
Janah, "She needs her own space, I'm hesitant to build another room. Think we can confiscate Amaya's room? She sleeps with Chloe anyway."
"Amaya, any ideas on Sloane's room in New York?"
"She should take mine. I can move the desk to Chloe's, no, she will need a desk of her own. I will get another more suited to Chloe's decor."
"You will take Amaya's room, she's always in with Chloe anyway."
Sloane, "Wow, I gotta thank her, she has a cool room. Can it stay just like it is?"
"I don't see why not."
Sloane beams, runs off to find Amaya.
A couple minutes pass, Amaya pops in my head, "She has excellent taste, mine, she wants to keep it as it is."
"Good, saves redecorating, Nikko will be happy to avoid the expense."
"She will need an expanded wardrobe, winter clothes. I will take care of it when we return."
Janah comes in, "Sorted out?"
"Yes, Amaya saw it before I even asked, and Sloane asked if she could keep it the way it is."
"Good, we're not adding any more rooms. My fallback was Lacy's apartment, she's almost never there. We can leave that for now, if we need more space down the road, I'll bring up the subject then. It's our building, her place was included when we bought it from her. She gets squatter's rights for life, but I don't think she'd turn us down if we needed it."
"I wonder if it would be better to use Lacy's for Amaya's writing. A desk the size she likes isn't going to work well in Chloe's room, Lacy already has an office in her apartment."
"That makes sense, I'll phone her in the next couple of days and ask."
Amaya comes downstairs for a cup of coffee, "I will have to do with a simpler desk in Chloe's room. It is not the end of the world, I am more concerned about Chloe, me in there half the day writing."
"We were just talking about that. Janah says Lacy won't mind you using her office. Since she's practically living with Sis and Taylor, she's seldom in her apartment and probably never in the office."
Amaya, "That is more like it. Janah will inquire?"
"Yes, Lacy is practical, she will see the sense of it, glad somebody is in the place."
"Chloe and I leave for LA next week. They are shooting now, but the young girl part. Chloe will play both the teen and twenties character, Christina, Christie. She melts down between the end of teen and the start of twenty. It is a blatant mash-up of the Britneys, Lindsays and Amandas, but in a fashion model, not a performer. A string of boyfriends, clubs, cocaine and booze. Lines are acerbic, funny and sad. A close friend dies of a heroin overdose, Christie takes a hard look, painful cocoon of rehab, emerges tentative but determined. Happy ending of success and independence."
"Chloe's happy all the time, how do you get acerbic and depressed?"
Amaya, "I am her coach, we have studied every line, every facial expression and tone of voice that goes with it. Each time she is on camera, I have given her the exact face and body language to adopt. Nothing is wooden or fake. I examined the script in minute detail. The other actors are solid professionals, their work is reliable. Some made dud movies, not their fault. The public fails to understand that sometimes actors have to take roles for money, they have expenses just like everyone else. Chloe is fortunate and can pick and choose, a luxury unavailable to most actors."
I could have figured out the answer on my own. Amaya isn't about to let Chloe fail. Box office and critics are wildly unpredictable, the movie may make a lot or a little money. If it fails, it won't be because Chloe got it wrong or the script sucked. Maybe people are tired of success screw-ups, people who had it all and fumbled it away. They don't see themselves making such obviously poor choices, they think they would make the right choices. They think they have free will and good judgment. They don't, but they don't know that. As Krishnamurti said, 'If a stupid man knew he was stupid, he wouldn't be stupid anymore.'
Since Sloane is recently with us, Janah passes along Society work to other teams. Happily, nothing came along that required our special talents, except a bit of hacking. One rich trust fund puke got off with therapy and probation for raping his three year old daughter. We decided that the judge had lost her mind. Janah sent one of our teams in, rich man won't be sticking his dick in anything. He doesn't have it anymore, no balls either. We figure it's the same result he'd have gotten in prison. We invaded his trust, took all the money. It's in limbo for the daughter and will surface in chunks over the years for her benefit.
Another rich tech slug made a video of himself beating the crap out of his girlfriend, He got off with anger management and community service. Judge said the video was obtained illegally, no warrant. The prosecutor argued that he would have erased the video by the time they got a warrant. No dice. The Society, which is Janah and I, had a different view. Rich tech slug earned a broken jaw, ankles that won't work anymore (he kicked her, seemed appropriate) broken ribs, a hand gone along with the thumb of his remaining hand.
We also parked two million dollars for the former girlfriend and wiped him out for the other twenty million. Her end will be paid at some time in the near future, from an unnamed sympathetic benefactor. The twenty we lifted will go anonymously to various abused women’s centers across the country. Daria also snagged the video, sent it to his company, all his e-mail contacts and, for fun, put it on YouTube. They caught it, but only after a few million views. Then we put it on his Facebook page and changed his password. He (we) sent a tweet, video attached. Nobody goes to Linkedin, we skipped that. By the time he got out of the hospital, his life was tsunami'd, he's the walking dead.
Why do we get to decide the fate of these people? We have the grit to do it, that's why.
Chapter One Hundred Six
Summer approacheth, we depart Prescott for New York. Chloe finished the film, not sure about release date, edits take time and they want to pick a spot not filled with summer or Christmas competition.
We arrive at Teterboro mid afternoon, Amaya and Chloe flew in a week earlier direct from LA. Nikko, Daria, Dasha and Zi in two days from San Francisco. Amaya is waiting for us at Teterboro.
"Sad to leave the beauty of Prescott, happy to be in the madness of Manhattan."
Chloe, "Kind of my feeling. We had fun in LA, cast was wonderful, the studio treated us like royalty. I hope we make them money."
Amaya, "You made seven million, the movie is R, your fan base will have to sneak in, most of them anyway. We will have to rely on reviews and your fans that have grown old enough to get into an R film. In six months you have to make the rounds of talk shows, morning TV and newspaper interviews."
"I don't mind, it's fun, the hosts are always polite. I just want favorable critical reviews."
"I shall charm the critics, give the script my seal of approval and a few advance tidbits about the filming. They like that, puffs up their piece."
Sloane is racing around the condo, "This place is fantastic, Amaya's room is even better live, it's super."
"Oceane, take her upstairs, to the roof. Probably skip your room, she'll be jealous and throw a fit."
Sloane, "Let's go to your room first!"
They head up the spiral stairs, there's a screech, "Oceane lives in heaven!"
I smile, she does kind of. Only have to unpack Sloane, she has no clothes here. The rest of us left things in Prescott for next time.
Amaya, "I shop tomorrow. There were packages at the security desk, things I got online for her. I need to collect them from the cleaners."
"I'll get them, take her shopping and a mini tour of the city. You'll need Angelo to drive, skip the nightmare of parking."
Amaya, "Already arranged, he picks us up at nine, an hour tour then to the stores. We will lunch on the run, back in time for tea."
"She's growing Amaya, don't go crazy."
Amaya, "No, I just want to let her try things on, teach her a sense of style, buy necessities only. Winter coats, boots and hats can wait, she could shoot up anytime and they wouldn’t fit."
Sloane's hair has grown over her ears, not boyish anymore. We allow lip gloss and a hint of eye shadow. Her clear skin, not olive, how to describe it, naturally tan. Despite highlights from the Arizona sun, her blond hair is darkening, whispering strawberry. Narrow boy lips give her face an interesting edge.
Janah, "Good to be in town again. I called Lacy, she's fine with you using the office or any of the space."
Amaya, "So sweet, I will call and thank her."
"The key is on the spare key chain in the laundry room, it's labeled. You know the security code?"
"Yes, we used it when we went over for dance. I had forgotten, she has the dance room, and stretch bars. How convenient."
Janah, "I'm going to set up the computer in Sloane's room, lessons start tomorrow."
"Can it wait a day? She's on a shopping trip with Amaya tomorrow."
"Sure, I'll wait until next week, give her time to roam the city first. We can take her to the temple day after tomorrow, see Ning and Chan at Fong's."
I leave to get Sloane's things from the cleaners. Amaya's idea of a few things is different from my idea of a few things.
"Janah, come to the cleaners, I need a hand to schlep Sloane's stuff."
Janah giggles, "I take it Amaya went a bit nuts."
"It's not too bad, just more than I can tote at one time. They would deliver it, but I'm already here."
It's only a couple of blocks, she shows up and we haul Sloane's haul home.
"Glad to see you only bought a few things."
Amaya, "Oh please, she needed everything, jeans, skirts, shorts, blouses, dresses, underwear, socks, pullovers, t-shirts. I only got two of each, a half dozen pairs of panties. It adds up."
"What are you shopping for tomorrow then?"
"Do you have two pairs of jeans, two blouses, two dresses? Sloane is going to a rather exclusive private school, ours. Girls come from wealthy families, they do not shop Target. Our child will be the best dressed, she is a reflection of my exquisite taste. Stick to your area, her nutrition and gung fu, better not to venture into the slippery world of girl fashion."
I laugh, "Good point your royal dictatorness."
"You are beginning to sound like Dasha. I miss her already, when are they coming?"
"Ah, I shall be at the airport to smuggle in our alien infiltrators. I presume you will insist on coming with me."
"Of course, Dasha will expect it, although she would never say so."
"Dahfoney, you will come with Eemaya to airport, and Vesnushki."
"I just got orders to include Chloe."
Amaya, "I adore the twins. Their screenplay will be finished in a month, then I am sending it to Childers, Matt and Claudia. This will be low budget, ten million, shot almost entirely in LA. They found twins to play them as children. We are not going to Russia after all, just a set. Most of it is shot inside, the scenes of abuse. Unlike their real lives, the Dasha character offs mom while she is beating the Daria character. They are sent to an orphanage, get into trouble when a couple of the other kids try to pick on them. The rest of it loosely follows their real experience, sold to a woman who takes them to America. She sells them to a vaguely Asian man who provides kids for pedophiles and child porn. They kill him the next night."
"How do they grow up from there?"
"Unknown to the Asian, he is the target of a hit man. One hired to revenge the death of a girl he kidnapped from a wealthy family. She was forced into porn, tried to run away several times, killed in her final attempt. The hit man stalks the target, peering through a window, he sees the Dasha character nude, distracting the man. The Daria character slits his throat from behind. Sociopathic hit man quickly recognizes two sociopathic girls, he gives them an outlet. Time jumps, Dasha and Daria are trained in weapons, hacking, how to pick locks, disguise. They begin their career as assassins. It is all back story, sounds complicated but takes only twenty minutes of film time."
Janah, "Definitely an R, sounds sort of familiar too."
"It will be R, we were perilously close to NC17, but the kid nudity is implied, not shown. With an R, kids can get in with an adult."
Sloane runs in, "What a fantastic roof, and the pool. Oceane is in now, swimming nowhere."
Amaya, "We have your clothes, let's go put things away."
Sloane, "Can I try them on?"
"Sure," they go off, I make Janah a cup of tea, pour myself coffee.
Chloe comes from her room, "Coffee left?"
"Just made it."
We sit at the big table, she says, "We need to visit the Murakamis, introduce Sloane. Been a while since we've seen them."
"You're right. Maybe next week, this one is getting chewed up quickly. Have you seen Eloise? Probably in the workshop."
Janah's eyes gets a glimmer I recognize, "I'll check," she rinses her cup and heads up the stairs.
I peek in Janah's head, Eloise is standing at the bench, panties only, although she's also fond of working in nothing. She's leaning forward, sorting through a box of computer chips.
Janah, "Don't want to disturb, we hadn't seen you, thought I'd be nosy and check."
Eloise turns her head, looks at Janah, "Take off your shirt."
Janah obliges, it's all she's wearing. Eloise turns, eyes roam Janah's loveliness, Janah likes her loveliness roamed.
"Come here," Janah walks to her, "take my panties off."
Janah kneels, follows the simple directions, Eloise parts her legs, "You know what comes next."
Chapter One Hundred Seven
Yay! The worker bees are back, we collect them from Teterboro. It's a short ride, 495 to the Lincoln Tunnel, out at 36th, down 9th Ave to 10th Street. Manhattan is numbers. Avenues north-south, streets east-west.
Dasha and Daria get their required double kisses, I stow baggage I the back, we stuff the Escalade with us and head home.
"How's San Fran?"
Nikko, "Busy, chilly, I'll fill everyone in when we get home."
The flight is time consuming, even flying private. Five and a half hours and lose three hours of time zone. They left this morning at eight, it's four thirty now. At least we're going against the outflow of Manhattan traffic. Amaya has us home in half an hour.
I do a quickie tea while they refresh, we gather around the big table.
Nikko, "The business pace is accelerating out west. We have opportunities and the staff wants to take them on. They also found us property, currently developed but old. We can buy it and build the apartments we discussed."
Janah, "How old, San Francisco is fussy about buildings."
Nikko, "That's the beauty of it. We can retain the structure and gut the inside. The lobby downstairs is rather nice. It needs to be dressed up, but the basic structure is solid, the architecture is good. Nobody's been willing to take it on, we are the only buyer. I can get it at a fair price, nothing in San Francisco is reasonable, but good enough. We can put a hundred small apartments. We'll be below market per square foot, and with minor amenities, a gym and free wireless. There's parking in the basements. That's another benefit, space for one car per apartment and fifty spaces left over. We can lease those to commuters at market rates."
Nikko, "That's what I want to discuss. Not for years. It will be self supporting, but we make nothing. The only thing that saves us is current mortgage rates, the tax deduction and depreciation. It's expensive, I don't want to tie up that much of our cash. The plus side is a couple hundred people get a shot at significantly more affordable housing in the city. It won't save the world."
Amaya, "It is a couple hundred people better off than they are now."
Janah, "You want to do it or you wouldn't have brought it up."
"It our first foray into ownership on the west coast. All we do now is manage other people's property."
"Will our clients be concerned, about us creating below market apartments?"
"We do commercial for the most part, only upscale residential, we aren't competition for them."
"You will have income guidelines? We don't want wealthy techies getting a deal that puts the people we are trying to help at a disadvantage."
"Of course, nobody over sixty thousand a year. We can tell from their employment, the guy at the hotel check-in isn't knocking down a hundred grand. Trust fund babies don't work as baristas."
Janah, "What does everyone think?"
Chloe, "We should do it, it's part of who we are."
That settles it. We don't get into the other, messier, part of who we are.
Nikko, "Then there's one other thing. Zi and I will be out there a lot. I need to lease an apartment in town. When we build out the property, I want to add a condo for us, on a top floor that doesn't exist now. Essentially another home in San Francisco. Won't be Prescott, or even our place here, I’m thinking four or five bedrooms, I doubt we'll all be there at the same time."
Janah, "Of course, I like San Francisco, and it's a short hop from Prescott. If we all go, some of can suffer in luxury hotel suites."
Amaya, "Great, gives Chloe and I an option from LA. How long will it take?"
"A year if we buy the property soon."
"I'll see our lawyers tomorrow."
Nikko does not let the grass grow.
What next? We have homes in Manhattan, Canada, Arizona, coming soon to SF. I can only hope Nikko doesn't expand to Japan, too long a flight to make regularly and we're running out of days in the year to be in various houses.
"Daria, have you checked on the library?"
We converted Mrs. Epstein's 5th Avenue condo to a private library. Rare books, first editions, older scientific texts and Buddhist works. We also have a brisk business in first editions of popular authors. We have a deal with them, they sign a limited number, we sell them online at a markup from full retail. They get the money.
"It stays reserved. The limited space accommodates twenty or so, the research room another ten. Some days there is space, but not much. We have added to the collection slowly, there isn't much room for more. We take any unusual opportunities, high value works. The monks expanded into restoration, there's a steady business in that. I'm thinking of a small change, a test market on the signed firsts. They always sell out. Instead of doubling the retail, I want to try auctions."
Amaya, "That is a good idea. My work alone will bring millions."
Dasha, "You haf no new book now, screenplay only."
"True. I shall whip up something, my public is at sea with lesser fiction, it will not do."
Daria, "We will have a minimum bid, maybe a hundred dollars. The site already notes that all proceeds go to the author. Buyer pays shipping and handling, we're out nothing."
Nikko, "The library is under the auspices of The Sylk Trust, it doesn't make money anyway. The trust was gifted a multimillion dollar condo and plenty of operating cash from the Epstein's bequest."
Janah, "Thank you Daria. Any other business?"
Sloane, "How many businesses do you have? I always hear about something new, new to me."
Zi, "Four restaurants, property management, our own buildings, a school, three ranches, soon to be four. Let's see, Eloise and Daria's drone business, a film company, Amaya's books are hers, not a family business. Nor is Chloe's modeling and movie career. We also manage our investment portfolio."
"What's an investment portfolio?"
"Stocks and bonds."
Sloane, "Gosh," I can see wheels turning, she's seen two lavish homes, flown on private jets, must be curious, I would be.
Dasha, "We are reech American girls, you are reech American girl also now. Ees no important, you will haf responsibility of something. Now you will learn, watch, don't turn into stupid girl like other reech American girl. Janah gave us lessons, Eemaya teaches us how to be nice, looking always beautiful. You will learn lessons and be diligent."
Nikko, "Next time we do a family business meeting you will be there. Then you will know, probably more than you want to, but it's important that everyone knows where we stand. Even if you're nine. One thing you must remember."
"Family business stays in the family. All family business, whether it's money or any of us or anything we do. Never talk about it with outsiders, not friends you will make at school, not teachers, no one. If anyone asks, tell them we own rental property, keep it vague. Do you understand?"
"Do you know why it's important?"
"Not really, except it would sound like bragging."
"Actually, that's a good reason. Another is for safety. Bad people look for rich people, to steal, to kidnap, you know what that is?"
"They steal kids and want money."
"Yes. They steal any family member and want money to return them. That won't happen to you, you will always be protected. But that doesn't mean someone won't try, trouble we want to avoid. So we go about our work and don't talk about it. Chloe is relatively famous, so is Amaya. That's more attention than we'd like, but it can't be helped. The media business requires exposure to the public. Chloe can't go out alone, none of us goes out alone, Chloe is just more visible. Your school is right down the street, but you won't walk there by yourself. When school out, one of us will walk you home. Never go out alone."
Nikko, "Daphne, her phone is set up?"
"Yes, and I also got an Amber Alert, just like the rest of us carry. Hers is on a necklace and she knows how to use it."
"Good enough. Sloane, you understand the need for this? We aren't trying to scare you, not too much anyway."
"Yes, mom explained it. She said a little scary is good."
Amaya, "The cocktail hour has snuck up on us, everyone want the usual?"
They do, Dasha and I make an executive decision to order from Marconi's rather than cook. We walk over with Sloane to collect it.
"Daphne, Dasha, welcome back. I coulda gone outta business if you stayed in Arizona any longer."
The place is full, as usual, "All these people just got back from Arizona too?"
He laughs, "We got a good business, still, better to have you here."
"Dom, this is my daughter Sloane, she was a special order, I was lucky to get her. "
Dom lights up, "Sloane, cool name, I'm Dom. Janah and Daphne been comin' here since they was kids, her moms too. I just sent pizza over to Susan's place yesterday."
Sloane, "Mom says you have the best pizza in New York. I only had frozen from the grocery where I lived before."
"Frozen pizza no more little one. You wanna pizza, you call me, I'll send it right over, you don't gotta leave the building."
"Cool, mom, I can really just call and get a pizza?"
"Sure, or anything else, Dom has great Italian, tonight you can try ravioli, spaghetti and meat balls, veg pizza, pepperoni margherita and cannoli for dessert."
Dom gives Sloane a big hug, "You gotta great mom kid, great family and they are lucky to have such a beautiful daughter. You come around like Daphne and Janah used to, have a slice and chew the fat."
Sloane giggles, "What is chew the fat?"
"It's slang, you know, to talk. My dad was always chewing the fat with Daphne, right over at the back table. They played checkers, told lies, you could hear my old man laugh all the way in the kitchen."
"That's what the family does when we have tea in the afternoon, chew the fat."
"Amaya's going to have a conniption when she hears Sloane's newest slang."
Dom, "Amaya, Jesus that girl is gorgeous, you blame it on me, maybe she'll come around and give me grief. I can take a lot of grief looking at her. Tell her to bring Chloe, movie star to class up the joint."
"I'll pass it along."
I pay the tab, we schlep the boxes and bags home, soon after it's an Italian festival.
Sloane, "I got to chew the fat with Mr. Dominick."
Amaya, "Where did you pick up that disgusting verbiage?"
"Mr. Dominick calls it chew the fat. he said Daphne used to chew the fat with his dad."
"I shall have a word with Dom regarding proper language for young ladies."
"You're going to chew the fat with him."
We laugh, Amaya too, "Daphne, you are responsible for the two Russian gangsters, now you expose your own daughter to Italian ones."
"Dom is not a gangster, he is a legitimate and upstanding member of the community."
"I mean Gennaro."
"Gennaro is in the moving and storage business. He provides a variety of goods and services at significant discounts, just like our Jamaican friends."
"Sloane, Daphne has ties to organized crime, friends among the criminal element. Be careful of her associates."
"Amaya, we are the criminal element."
"Good point Daphne. Sloane, be careful around your mother."
"Mr. Dominick said you should stop by to give him grief, he thinks you're gorgeous."
"Then I retract my comment. A man so perceptive cannot be other than an upstanding member of the massive community of Amaya worshipers. I may start a religion."
"What kind of religion?"
Dasha, "One where people chew Eemaya fat."
Chloe laughs so hard she nearly falls off the chair, even Nikko grins.
Sloane has her first cannoli, "What do you think?"
"The pizza was perfect, ravi...what do you call it?"
"That was great too, this desert is yummy, what's the inside?"
"Ricotta cheese, powdered sugar and whipped heavy cream."
"What is ricotta?"
"A cheese made from the whey protein left from making other cheeses. Ricotta is over half protein, but the other half is saturated fat. After adding heavy cream and confectioner's sugar, cannoli is not a low calorie treat. You really are chewing the fat."
Amaya, "It's too good not to have a bit. I only eat a bite, feed the rest to Chloe, she never gains an ounce. I hate her."
Sloane looks at Oceane, "Are they always this crazy?"
Oceane is digging the middle out of her cannoli with a spoon, "Crazier."
Chapter One Hundred Eight
Sloane visits the temple, meets David Li and Manolo, watches gung fu, then to Fong's to see Chan and Ning.
Ning, "Daphne, Janah, welcome home, first home anyway. I saw the photos of the new house, fantastic place."
"And you and Chan should visit, on your own or with Black and Sonia can go along. Or come when we're there if you want more company. But it's a good spot for a quiet romantic getaway."
Ning, "Thank you, we've been to Canada several times, David Li says we don't stay long enough, he loves it there."
"Let me introduce my daughter, Sloane."
Ning, "How precious! What a delight, beautiful daughter for a beautiful mom. And you have the advantage of many moms at home I think."
Sloane, "Janah, Amaya, Nikko, Zi, Chloe, the others are more like older sisters. It's great, I'm the baby, they all take care of me."
Ning, "As is proper. And here comes my husband, Chan, this is Sloane."
Chan bows, "Your mother and Janah are my sisters, not in blood, stronger, friendship and compassion. The Abbess and Master Sylk took care of me when I was as young as you, entering the temple."
I see Sloane's wheels turning. Janah and I are about the same age as Chan, at least that how it looks. How did we take care of him? Fortunately, she doesn't follow that thought.
"Wow, he's big mom, who wouldn't feel safe around him?"
Sloane giggles, "I guess not."
Ning, "Sit, I will bring something for lunch."
We park at the back corner table, Chan watches over the restaurant from here, he's now Chinatown's Mrs. Fong. All day people come and go, with information, questions, seeking permission, conflict resolution, real or imagined grievances. Chan listens, offers a suggestion, or occasionally says he will look into it, whatever 'it' is. His suggestions are always polite, offered as advice and counsel, always followed. Things run smoothly in Chinatown for a simple reason, Chan is first and last word. Sometimes he lets difficulties run their course, let out a bit of bad blood. It has to be done quietly, police and bad press aren't good for business. The bold and brash who step over the line only step once, then don't step anymore.
The reason Chinatown is still Chinatown and not gentrified to oblivion is that the property is owned by networks of individuals and families. One building might have twenty owners, more. Makes it impossible to sell and that’s on purpose. The property we inherited from Mrs. Fong was owned solely by her, but she bequeathed it to Janah and I because she knew we would run it for the benefit of the community. We are Shaolin after all.
Bowls of wonton and hot and sour soup, followed by stir fry vegetables with mock duck, jumbo shrimp in garlic sauce, vegetable fried rice.
Sloane, "Mom, this is so good. Marconi's last night, this today. Why do you bother to cook?"
"I like it. We make things like steak or fish that are better served right off the grill. Our family is big, going to a restaurant is complicated with so many."
Chan asks her, "You are going to the Village School in the fall?"
Sloane, "Yes, I'm excited. I never had friends...before," she looks at me, "Does Chan, um, know about me?"
Chan, "You are beautiful young girl, not allowed to be until Janah and Daphne. Do as they say, there will be no difficulties."
Sloane, "I feel like I landed in a dream."
Chan, "As did I. A dream of White Angel and her companion. They got me in the temple, then a beautiful wife, gave us this business, asked for nothing in return."
"We got Miyako and David Li, you might have overpaid."
He asks Janah, "She will study the dharma?"
"She will, right now it's more math and basic reading, but soon. She's not suited to the temple, she wants to be a regular girl, do regular girl things. We will make sure she gets to do them. Her financial future is secure, her path in life unknown. There are other physical matters that have to be taken care of over time."
Lunch rush is a little less rushed now, Ning sits for a minute, "You saw David Li?"
Sloane, "He's really nice, everyone was. The temple gardens are amazing, so many plants. I watched gung fu practice, everyone bows to mom and Janah, they call her Master J."
Ning, "Her name since she entered as a girl. They were older than you, fifteen I recall."
Sloane looks from Chan, to Janah to me, brow furrows a bit, I try to move the subject, "Yes, sat on the steps outside for three days and nights with Chan, David and Black."
Ning, "Have you seen Black since your return?"
"Not yet. We'll go to the Down Homes, Dasha will want a firsthand look, Black can meet us in Brooklyn."
"Chan talks to him regularly, he comes by for lunch, sometimes with Sonia. She's pulling back on her social work and counseling. They are adopting a boy from the school David runs for you."
"Get out! He hasn't said a word."
Ning, "Just happened, it came up suddenly. The boy is nine, Caucasian, boards at the school. He was one of Sonia's cases, she got him into the Brooklyn school two years ago. He's been a model student, takes gung fu at Black's academy."
Janah, "I recall Sonia mentioning him, but just in passing. There was an abandoned boy and she approached David about a place at the school."
Ning, "Naturally they followed his progress, a bond developed. Sonia had enough of marginally successful results in her job. Get a family on a program, they drift away or don't engage. Many of her cases were single mothers either trying to hold down too many jobs or not working at all. It must be frustrating. She told me it was like painting a long fence, when she got to the end it was time to start over at the beginning."
"So happy for them, they never were inclined to have children. Black used to say he had the kids at his academy, Sonia had dozens of kids in her caseloads. They were surrounded by children and adolescents."
Sloane, "Mom and Janah took in kids from all over, just like me, well, not exactly like me," she giggles, swipes the last shrimp in sauce and downs it.
Time to move along, hugs for Sloane, we take a walk around Chinatown, busy as always. It's navigation training for Sloane, how to deal with hundreds of pedestrians, street crossing, pay attention to cars and the bicycle messengers zipping through near gridlocked traffic. Up Broadway, through Soho, the most crowded route, which is the point. We stop and check her android from time to time, location map. She can learn to match up the map with her physical location, how to tap in our condo and get the route home. I've put addresses for Fong's, the temple, Village Diner and Susan's condo. She can get directions to them if it's an emergency and one or the other is closer. She isn't going out alone for a while, but crap happens and she needs to know where it's safe.
Janah, “I’ll drop off here, see you in a bit,” she goes into Chapmans.
We continue to 4th Street down to the subway. I show her how to buy a Metrocard, how to use it, how to read the subway maps, the difference between uptown and downtown. I'll do this once a week, tell her where we want to go, let her figure out the trains. She'll watch for our stop, find the next train if we need to change lines.
Sloane's wide eyed at the cars blasting into the station, wider-eyed in the dark tunnels, train blasting past the other way, inches from ours. We wind up at Columbus Circle, walk up the west side of Central Park for a few blocks. It's pressing four, time to go home.
We can take the A, which has fewer stops, or the number 1, which is a local. We opt for the 1 so Sloane can get a feel for the flow of streets from mid-town to the West Village. First stop is 50th, Times Square then Penn Station, four more stops to 14th and out. We could also ride one more stop to Christopher St. but it's a negligible difference to 10th St. from either. And now there’s a spanking new 7th Avenue extension that runs from midtown to 34th St. we’ll get to that eventually. It isn’t close enough to us to be of much benefit.
Amaya, "Get the tour?"
Sloane, "My head is spinning. Mom says I'll get the hang of it. The subway is neat, swipe a card, get on a train, a few minutes later we're across town."
"You newest new stuff is back from the cleaners, go put things away before Daphne goes in and does your job for you."
Dasha has tea ready, "We walked and rode all over the place, I can use a caffeine calorie kick."
She also has brownies and oatmeal cookies on a platter in the middle of the table. I take one of each, despite lunch at Fong's, my stomach growls at me.
"Thank you Dasha," I recap our travels.
Daria, "We followed on her GPS. Make sure it gets charged."
I nod, "We have at least twenty things charging at any given time, good thing the condo is all solar. Any progress on graphene batteries Eloise?"
Eloise, "Tough one. I can make a battery, but nothing we have is designed to use them except the drones. Electronics we buy don't recognize it as a power device. The batteries have to be calibrated to the device. I can do it, but there would be a separate attachment. That might be okay for a laptop, but not for a phone or a netbook."
"How's the graphene work on the drone?"
"Great, more speed, longer life, five minutes to charge. We got the darts to fire at a higher velocity, translates into more distance and better penetration, through a winter coat for instance. Technically, it could penetrate body armor."
Daria, "Body armor is designed to spread impact from a collapsing bullet. It's not designed for a knife, which will go right through. A dart is even easier. It might not be long enough, that's a different problem. We don't need to pierce body armor, a dart in any exposed body part is just as effective."
Sloane zips in, "Amaya got me such great outfits. I am going to be the coolest tranny in town."
We laugh, she's not embarrassed, not hiding, not pretending things are different than they are.
Sloane, "I have a question. I met Chan and Ning today. Chan said mom and Janah helped him get in the temple when he was my age. Ning said mom and Janah were fifteen then. But Chan and Ning look the same age mom and Janah. Their son, David Li looks the same age as his parents. Is that a bad thing to say?"
"Not at all."
Our general operating rule is, old enough to ask, old enough to answer. Is it true all the time? Nothing is true all the time, it's true this time.
I offer a shortened version of our non-aging, some of the genetics, DNA transfusions.
Sloane, "You must be vampires."
"Maybe, the only blood we drink is medium rare meat, and Janah's a vegetarian."
Sloane, "What about me?"
“You will have to decide, if you want to quit aging, to pick an age You have a few more complications, hormone treatments have to be completed, it doesn’t matter if you decide to fully transition. But you should be closer to eighteen than fourteen.
Sloane grins, "Compared to you guys, I'm the most normal person here."
“Perhaps, but those are also things that cannot be discussed.”