They follow Stafford to a distinctly undistinguished bar and grill, Murphy's, no place to deal with him for now.
Nikko, "Where's he live?"
Amaya looks through the notes, taps into her phone, "About a mile from here. His habit is to stop here practically every night, stays an hour, goes home with a bag of grease."
"Go to the house."
An hour and a quarter later, Stafford opens the door, kicks it shut with his heel and walks in the dark to the kitchen. He flicks on the kitchen light, Dasha cracks him hard in the kidney and snaps a short sidekick to the back of his knee. He stumbles forward, catches himself on the table. He's a big guy, six two, thick, used to physical aggression. He also has a gun.
His hand instinctively goes to the weapon, has it out as he turns. Nikko grabs the barrel, twists it up. His finger is on the trigger, the gun fires, the bullet lodges in the ceiling. Dasha sticks her knee in his groin and her knuckles in his throat. Nikko has the gun, pops the magazine and empties it.
Stafford is crouched over, choking. He's also reaching to his ankle.
Nikko puts her serrated blade to his throat, "Go for it and I'll turn your neck into a second asshole, asshole."
Dasha gets a small .38 from his ankle holster, two rounds missing, the gun he used earlier.
He pulls back, does the male thing, stands fully erect, opens his arms to expand his chest. Lots of animals try to appear bigger, intimidates the competition. Sometimes it works, not now.
Stafford, croaks, coughs, "I suppose you know who you're fucking with?"
Nikko, "Which means I don't care, sit down, watch a video."
He sees himself committing murder, "So, now what?"
"Now you go to jail. The strange thing is, we aren't even here for your sideline, we're here about your ex."
Stafford, "She fucking hired you to, what, threaten me?"
"She doesn't know us, doesn't know we're here, neither does her husband. Unlike you, we don't hire out. We do punk ass bullies for fun, shits like you are an endless sewer. We stumbled on the murder following you around."
Stafford is used to pressure, it doesn't cloud his brain, he's in a no win without the video, he leans forward to stand.
Nikko sticks the knife point in his neck, enough to draw blood, "Before you get stupid, I had lots of time to send the video to my associates. Trying for the camera isn't going to fix your problem, it will make it worse."
"Then kill me now. I go to prison, that's worse."
"Again, unlike you, we don't do executions. You have an alternative, there are four rounds left in the thirty eight. My friend is going to remove three of them. You can do yourself with the same gun you killed with tonight. Or, you can run, or you can turn yourself in or you can wait for the cops to appear. We're watching, if you run, I just come along again and you don't get an alternative, you get busted. I would just do that now, but you have a daughter. I have a proposal."
Stafford has a brief flash of hope, it disappears as flashes tend to, "What?"
"Take your life. I'll move the gun and make it appear that someone broke in and shot you at close range, barrel to neck close. No video, daughter thinks dad was killed by a bad guy, which is true after all."
Stafford, "Be powder residue on my hand."
"It's there from the automatic. You have lots of enemies, is the gun a throw-down? Anyone know you have it?"
"We all carry an extra, nobody asks, it's not mine, not registered to anyone."
"Even better, it will seem like the killer brought the gun himself, which is also true. And there's a bullet in your ceiling from your service weapon. That gun will be lying next to you, why you shot the ceiling they can make up, cops are good at that."
Stafford, "You just gonna watch me off myself?"
"Why not? I'm not going to clap, or maybe I will. It is the honorable solution and you skip the humiliation of a trial, prison with guys who hate you, and your daughter's ongoing torment of jailbird killer cop dad. I don't have all night, what's it going to be?"
“The money from the job is in my jacket, take it.”
“I have more money than you can count, your murder chump change is less than I spend on shoes.
He slumps, "Come on, you do it."
"Nope, man up cowboy. Show that rugged American independence, like all the gun nut drivel."
They take the automatic, Dasha leaves one bullet in the revolver, Nikko says, "Point that bitch anyplace but your own neck, I will remove fingers and toes and still send the video to the world. It’s your daughter, I don’t care how she has to spend her life."
Dasha holds one arm straightened out, elbow over her knee, Nikko's blade over his index finger. It not much of a risk, his trapped arm is angled to the side and slightly behind him, he's only got one shot, either at Nikko or to redeem himself and protect his daughter.
A second bang echoes the kitchen walls. Stafford slumps forward.
A quick job of rearranging, they wear gloves, no prints. Stick the bullets and magazine back in the automatic, put it in his hand and let it drop to the floor as if that's what happened. It will appear that Stafford was sitting at his kitchen table, the bag of food unopened. Got surprised by an intruder, picked up his automatic, got shot, reactive shot from his gun hit the ceiling. Maybe they make up a different story, but it will be hard to make it suicide with a thirty eight bullet out the back of his neck into the tile by the sink and a second shot from a gun registered to him lying near his body.
Dasha, "What about wiping his hand, for the powder?"
"That's probably not a problem, he's supposed to have fired his gun, still maybe we fix it. See if there's beer in the refrigerator."
There is. Nikko pops the top, pours a bit down the sink, lays the can on the table sideways and lets the beer empty onto his shooting hand. Powder residue is now irrelevant. Nikko takes the revolver, checks his jacket, no extra bullets, she takes the envelop of cash.
"Let’s take a quick look around for thirty eight bullets."
Dasha finds them in a closet, box is half full, probably always uses a thirty eight throw-down, she pockets the box.
Nikko, "All the time we have for this," they exit the back door, leave it open. Dasha goes down the drive first, takes a right on the sidewalk and down the block to the Escalade. Nikko hops in a minute later.
"You hear gunshots?"
Amaya, "No, but I was down here with the windows up."
"Get going, if someone heard, it's likely to get busy around here. His kitchen is at the rear of the house and there's nothing close behind his place. A laundry room left and a bedroom right, it's possible the sound was muted."
On the way to the hotel, they lose the thirty eight in a sewer drain, dump the bullets in a second drain, pick up a pizza and a bottle of Chianti, eat in Nikko's room.
Dasha, "Job was simple."
Nikko, "We got lucky. He has after work routines, Surveillance made our lives easier. Despite his fractured mentality, he got the picture immediately. A miserable life for his young daughter, himself in prison surrounded by people he may have put there. Even if they send him elsewhere, prisoners hate cops. From the moment we filmed him, he was a dead man. He had nothing to think over really."
Amaya, "If we hadn't stumbled on the video opportunity?"
Dasha, "He still loses everything. He will be out of job, cripple, no more police, maybe janitor someplace. Nikko gave him honorable way out."
Amaya is counting the money he got for the killing, "Ten thousand, doesn't seem like much for a life."
Nikko, "We don't know who he offed, considering the neighborhood we might have done the world a favor."
"What do we do with the money?"
"Beats me, Janah may want to send it to the kid, anonymous donations collected in memory of her dad, or put it in the operating fund for the ranches. Likely go to the girl. Maybe she gets a cop payment, his pension or something. That's Janah's department."
They wrap dinner, wine is gone, Dasha and Amaya head off to their rooms. At Amaya's door, she says, "In the mood for sexual release?"
They fly in next morning, I collect them at Teterboro, we're home for noon.
Janah, "Good work. Nikko's right, we'll send the money in a week or so, let the investigation run, cop murdered by unknown assailant. Have the cop funeral. Keep the video until it's over, we don't know if someone decides to investigate further or something got overlooked at the scene. Once it's done, delete it."
Amaya, "Anything on who the cop killed?"
Janah, "A working stiff, not a drug dealer, pimp or some rival gang leader. Whoever hired him had another motive. Could be anything, a woman, a debt, we may never know. The possibility they tie the bullet from Stafford's gun to the murdered victim isn't out of the question. Daphne, check my previous instruction, keep the video for a while."
"You think they go that far?"
"Two murders with a thirty eight on the same night, one a cop? Yes, they'll have to go that far."
Nikko, "The gun is gone, permanently. As best we can tell, so is the extra ammo."
Janah, "If he has more, it doesn't matter. Only the revolver matters, they can't test the bullet until it's been fired. Better you got rid of the ones you found, but it's going to appear that the same person who killed the guy on Main killed the cop. The bullets will match, and there's no gun. Still, we keep the video until the case is old news."
"It's encrypted and on further encrypted Society drives. God isn't hacking it, Sis has made sure of that. Any unknown program enters the drive, it destructs. Society stuff as well as our records are backed up on external drives not connected to the web, you can't hack what you can't access."
"Oceane was right, we didn't go out there to kill him, the cop died anyway."
Amaya, "She got lucky, or he got unlucky, how could she know?"
Nikko, "I agree, she mumbles whatever's in her head, cops get shot on TV and in movies all the time. She sees that, we talk about the target being a police detective, her mind goes to dead cop."
Janah, "I suppose, she hasn't been in the prediction business, only what someone feels or felt in the past. Guess we'll see if she keeps it up."
A week passes, then two. As expected there was a funeral, generally favorable comments about the detective, not gushing favorable. He wasn't the kind of person people miss, more than a few glad he's gone. His issues worked in our favor. There was no investigation of any consequence. They tried to tie the two murders together by the bullets, but it went nowhere. It couldn't, the guy who killed the first used the same gun, except the gun was gone, he couldn't have killed himself with it. They did make a show, persons of interest, roundup of a few questionable characters. We weren't there, but the articles and comments by the investigators were not the usual "one of our own" bluster you might expect. His ex was an ex, she never showed up anyplace, that he had a young daughter was mentioned in the context of 'survived by.' Even the pushy press isn't going to press a six year old girl, not in Dayton, they don't have Geraldo.
Janah, "Dump the video, it serves no purpose. I've arranged for an anonymous letter to be included with the money, cashier's check to Trudy Stafford, 'we're thinking of you Trudy.' Be mailed from Ohio."
"Ugly situation, hard to explain to a six year old how she's better off than having daddy in prison for life."
"No, all we can hope for is that mom doesn't turn it into a therapy nightmare. It's not like she gets a victim check. If they leave her alone, jump back into life, the event will recede in memory. If they therapy, it's just going to keep the memory current and strengthen it. They create a kid who assumes something is wrong with her, otherwise why therapy? Every future screw-up is explained by troubled childhood, an all purpose get out of jail free card."
Chloe, "Why doesn't the therapist just do a cursory interview, if there's no obvious trauma beyond typical grief let it go?"
"No money in that. Less cynically, if she goes bad, therapist gets blamed for not being thorough. Future bad behavior will be reframed to have been obvious if the therapist had been paying attention. Malpractice is bad for business and mommy gets a settlement from the therapist's insurance company. The therapist is in a crap position, so she uses a fifty gallon drum of therapy instead of a teaspoon."
Chloe, "What if the girl says I'm fine, miss my dad, but it will be okay?"
Janah, "Therapist says denial, or repression. Maybe the kid is a sociopath and secretly likes the idea of dead people. Or if she cries and agonizes, then clearly she needs a boatload of therapy to guide her through the trauma. Either way, it will need to be explored in many profitable future sessions."
Chloe, "Glad I'm not in therapy."
"Therapists can't help themselves. Trained to look for so called abnormal behavior, they find abnormal behavior. Behavior is usually abnormal, there is no normal human behavior that can't be painted as abnormal. I often wonder exactly what normal looks like. I can't see what's going on inside people's minds even as they do something utterly mundane, like grocery shopping. I can see in Daphne's mind, nothing in there is normal."
Sloane finds that hilarious.
"Don't you have homework or something?"
Sloane, "I think I'm traumatized, I probably need years of therapy, I'm a girl with a penis being raised by a bunch of weird lesbians."
"I'll make an appointment with James, you can unload your trauma on him. He won't do anything about it, but he's a great listener and you can tell all your friends you see a highly regarded psychiatrist."
Sloane, "Think I'll go for a swim instead," she scoots up the stairs.
Amaya, "She is handing her situation remarkably well."
"She is. I give us some credit. She's treated as an integral part of the family, she keeps busy. I give a lot of credit to the school, they don't see anything but a girl in a girls' school. She doesn't pretend she isn't physically different, she accepts it as fact."
Chloe, "Is she still thinking of going the whole way, the operation?"
"She doesn't talk about it much. We started hormone therapy. She knows she's a girl, we didn't need to delay puberty while she sorted things out. If she wants to keep her boy parts, she keeps them, if she wants to transform, she transforms. I don’t know what she thinks of her current anatomy, but there's only one voter in that election and it isn't any of us."
"What does she take?"
"Transdermal estradiol, like a nicotine patch, except estrogen. We intentionally skipped progesterone, too many side effects, and anti-androgens as unnecessary."
Chloe, "When can she have transition surgery?"
"Eighteen if we do it in the states, there are countries where sixteen or even fifteen is the age of majority, but I wouldn't want her to have the surgery in any of them. Thailand does the most procedures, but the age of majority there is eighteen as well and you have to wait a year. She's already seeing doctors at dad's hospital and he oversees her psychological care along with a transitional specialist. By the time's she's eighteen, she can go for it with no delays here in New York. Or she may decide to wait until she's older. We have time, she can make up her mind later."
“Has she decided about aging?”
“We’re thinking eighteen, her situation doesn’t allow for an Oceane fourteen or a twins fifteen.”
Time to promote Twice as Dead, Chloe is familiar with the TV interview process, it's quick, be polite, make a joke, don't take yourself seriously, look good. Matt Davos is always a welcome late night guest, and he and Chloe have minor roles in the movie. He's been a guest before and has good rapport with the host.
After he does his bit about his bit of role, he says, "Working with Chloe and the twins again was a treat. We had fun doing Ultra Violet, and when Daria and Dasha came on board, it got even better."
Host, "How so?"
Matt, "Rather than tell a story, how would you like to meet them yourself?"
"Really, they're here?"
Of course the host already knows they are there, but it's more fun to let the audience think it's spontaneous.
"Well, let’s bring them out, Daria and Dasha Kazakova!"
They are stunning, Amaya has them in the same style of skirt and blouse, just different colors. Hair, like in the movie, is identical, although in real life they part on different sides. Eye shadow and lipstick individualized to the outfit. They are a visual treat, obviously identical, as if the same girl in slightly different clothes. Skirts are snug, couple of inches above the knee, tastefully displaying lovely calves and graciously curved thighs under the fabric.
Lots of whistles and applause, the twins don't so much as blink, shake hands with the host and take places on the couch next to Matt in the guest's chair. They sit forward, demurely crossed ankles, hands folded in their laps, exactly as Amaya instructed.
Host, "Matt, you ever think about how fortunate you are, three films with Chloe Sylk and these young ladies?"
Matt grins, "The trick to continued association is to keep Amaya happy, she writes the scripts and picks the players."
Host turns to the twins, "Is Matt as easy to work with as everyone says?"
Dasha, "Easier, professional, always on time, knows lines, good attitude with crew."
"Got your own fans I see," then to the twins, "You had your first roles in Ultra Violet Two, then reprising roles in Three. I saw them both, how do you prepare for such violent roles?"
Dasha, "Nothing to prepare, we play ourself."
Host laughs with the audience.
"Only learn lines, Amaya dress us up, we do what Harry Childers says to do. Wait around for next scene."
Host, "So you're dead serious assassins in real life?"
Dasha dodges, "Nyet, only serious, we are not American pop star. Amaya teaches us to make American girl smiley face."
Host, "Can you do that for us now?"
They break out in, after Amaya's relentless coaching, genuine happy beautiful smiles, Daria says, "Have a nice day, thank you for coming, we appreciate your business, come and see us again soon, bye bye now."
Matt and Host crack up with the audience, Matt says, "Now you know what they look like acting, what you see on screen is them in real life. Daria is quiet normally, Dasha does most of the conversation, and mostly to herself."
Host, "I noticed that in the Ultra Violets, Dasha, do you really carry on conversations with yourself?"
Dasha, "Da, Dahfoney ees always confused, she does not know when I talk to her or to me only."
He asks, "Who is Dahfoney?"
"Dahfoney Seelk, fahmahley and friend."
He looks to Matt, who says, "Daphne, Daphne Sylk. Daria and Dasha live with Chloe, Amaya, Daphne and five other women. They have an amazing condo in Manhattan."
Host, "Wait, let me get this straight..."
Dasha, "Not straight, lazebian."
The audience roars, breaks out in applause.
Host, "Did you just, um, come out?"
Dasha, "Nyet, never went in. We do not make announcement for TV. We are lazebian, who cares?"
It takes a full minute to let the applause settle down.
Host grins, he's having fun, "Back to my question, you work and live with Chloe Sylk and Amaya, and others?"
Dasha, "Da, yes. We are in many business together, not only moovey."
Matt, "Perhaps you've heard of Murakami Sylk?"
Host, "That's the film company, right?"
Matt, "And a major property management company, four restaurants in New York City, one of which is named after their Ultra Violet film franchise."
Host, "Of course, I've been, yes, they play the movies upstairs in the bar. The food is great, southern."
Matt, "Dasha created the whole menu."
Host says to Dasha, "You sure did a great job."
Dasha, "Thank you, Dahfoney started me to cook when I was child. We make recipe she learned from Ms. Alva. Ms. Alva took care of Dahfoney's mom and Dahfoney when they were homeless persons."
Host, "Amazing story. We need to take a quick break, can you guys stay? I think our viewers would like to know more, I certainly do."
Applause verifies his judgment.
During the commercial break he says, "I'm going to go back to the twins, how they got into film, any future plans."
Matt, "Hope I didn't sound like an ad for Murakami Sylk, they'll probably give me grief for just that. They don't do much public pronouncement."
"No, it was human interest, the audience loved it, like they got inside information on up and coming film stars."
Break's over, "We're back with Matt Davos, Daria and Dasha Kazakova, starring in the soon to be released Twice as Dead. Dasha, twice as dead is a reference to twins of course, how does it play out in the film?"
"One of us ees in one place, an identical person in another. One witness sees my character get out of a car in Santa Monica, another witness swears I was in an apartment building across town. When we stalk a target, we can make him think he saw me behind him, a second later, I'm in front. Or he leaves me sitting in a hotel coffee shop, but the same girl is waiting for him in his room. We have a clip if you would like to see it."
Host, "Great, let's take a look."
The clip plays, it's just as Dasha describes. The target is having coffee with her, he's working her for a dinner date later. They make arrangements, he leaves and heads to the elevator, even turns to wave at her as he enters the elevator. He gets to his room and Daria, identical to the girl he left downstairs, is sitting at the table in his suite. He blinks, mouth open, 'How did you....?'
She says, "Sorry, have to cancel....you,' shoots him in the head, as she exits she starts to hang the Do Not Disturb tag on the door, changes her mind and says, 'No one to disturb.'
End of clip, audience enthusiastically clapping, Host says, "Great stuff, another Amaya hit on the way, when's it come out?"
Daria, "Next month, third Friday."
Host, "Can't wait to see it, Matt, Dasha, Daria, thank you for coming, always a pleasure to see you Matt," he turns to the camera, "after a short break, a fascinating new sleight of hand artist, hold onto your watches and wallets when Jerry Diamond is around."
Music, break to commercial, they shake hands, Host says to the twins, "You should come back after release, we'll do a segment on how the film is being received, maybe with Chloe, even Amaya if she will come."
The twins offer smiles, thanks, no commitment. Amaya decides those things, the twins couldn’t care less about TV and talk.
Matt and Claudia stop by for a late snack and cocktails at the condo.
Claudia, "Perfect setup, the twins were suitably adorable, the buzz about lesbian will be all over the web."
"I suppose that's okay, it's not like we keep it under wraps, we just don't make a cause out of it."
Matt, "Was it okay to mention the companies Nikko, I hope I didn't run off too much?"
Nikko, "No harm. Most of our clients have figured us out. If somebody's carrying a bias, we don't want to do business with them anyway."
Matt, "Thank you for that. I got enthusiastic in the moment."
Amaya hands him a Glenlivet on the rocks, "Have a drink, it's Hollywood junk, there is no bad publicity, the only bad is none."
Claudia, "Where are Oceane, and Sloane?"
"Probably asleep. Sloane has school tomorrow and she and Oceane swam all afternoon. I recorded the program, they can catch up tomorrow. What's next for you Matt?"
Claudia is reading proposals. You guys have overpaid me so much she's gotten really snobby about parts."
Claudia, "There's something interesting, a new piece, new writer, an adaptation of a novel. A man has an automobile accident, breaks a bone or two, but the main problem is his head. The car hits him at such an angle that he bangs his head on the piece that holds the seat belt at the top, I forget the name."
Janah, "The retractor, it also locks when the belt snaps forward too quickly."
"That's it. It cracks his skull and part of his brain is damaged. As his brain resets, senses start to overlap, he sees numbers as colors, objects evoke smells, he becomes a synesthete, that's what they call it."
We don't go into Daria and Oceane, both of whom have versions.
Claudia, "It's a story of learning to cope with a new way to think, with suggestions that all of us may have the ability, but it's gotten tamped down in the course of evolution."
Janah, "Some neuroscientists think babies are synesthetic, they have millions more neurons than they need. They actually slough off neurons as certain connections become more permanent and unused connections deteriorate. The excess of neurons is why kids pick up languages so quickly."
Claudia, "Yes! As the character learns more about it, that very thing comes up. I like the story because it gives Matt a wide range of emotion to convey. The pain of recovery, the shock of a weird skill, confusion, finding the determination to not only overcome but use it to advantage. Action movies make us a great living, a film like this is a legacy, maybe an Oscar."
Matt, "Only one problem. Studios don't want it, too sciencey, they don't think it has broad enough appeal. They wanted the character to go off the deep end, become a serial killer or something. The author doesn't know from filmmaking or financing."
Claudia, "What's really dumb is the thing can be cranked out for under ten million, chump change in Hollywood. There's no need for extensive travel, the cast isn't huge, much of the synesthesia stuff is easily created digitally, and it can be beautifully represented. I call it an educational art film."
Nikko, "You think it has enough draw to pay for itself, I mean, Matt's his own draw."
Claudia, "Of course. With the right director, Matt would do it for scale and points."
"Who's the right director? He or she has to understand the need for great computer graphics that mesh with the story, not just a digital kaleidoscope of color. And not go overkill on graphics the whole movie, it is about a human being after all."
Claudia, "Harvey Mathis, he's the most expensive part of the film though, along with the best graphics, which he will insist on."
Nikko, "Send me the cost projections, if I think it works, we'll finance it. Do you want a piece, or just the points? Points is safer, a cash investment is a tax deduction."
Claudia, "Can I talk to our accountants first?"
Nikko, "Sure, I'll call after we review the numbers."
Matt, "Thanks for this. I'm just the performer, Claudia has the sense for what works. If she says this thing has legs, it’s got legs. I don't care much about Oscars, but I'd love to do something that stretches me. My radar says it's a good one, it scares and excites me at the same time."
"That's a good sign. Give you the right edge."
Claudia, "Time to let you guys rest and we have an early flight back to LA. Mathis has time available tomorrow afternoon, I need to do a sales job, convince him a best director nomination is on the table."
Nikko, "The Academy isn't going to nominate a Murakami Sylk production, we aren't Hollywood insiders. Oscar is a self congratulation party for the cognoscenti. Don't be doing this for the statue, if Mathis is the boss in digital, he's going to know that. I suggest you sell him on content and how he will need to bring all his skill to the project. Whatever he's done, make it seem like he'll need to do even more to make this work. You only want him if he sees it like Matt does, as stretching his ability."
Claudia, "Duh, of course! Now I know why you're so successful in business. I don't suck up, I make it seem like I'm challenging him."
Nikko, "Know any other digital geniuses?"
Claudia, "A couple with good reps."
Nikko, "Then make it seem like he's in competition, under consideration. Drop names, say you're not in a hurry, you have solid financing and talent is your top priority. Give him a vision of synesthesia, you don't want pretty colors with numbers in them, any fool can do that. What would be his vision of the graphics? Back him to the wall, make him work it."
Claudia, "You should be an agent."
Nikko, "I have too much to do now. Call me and let me know how it goes. And do contact the other possibilities, they will want to enter the contest, it works for you to have them drooling. If it were me, I'd ask them to submit five minutes on how they would present synesthesia. If they do, they've got skin in the game and you have them hooked."
Claudia, "Good Lord, it seems obvious when you explain it. I'm used to being approached from the other side, when someone wants Matt. This is new for me, doing the approaching. I've got the plane ride home to think up my lines."
Hugs around, Amaya drives them to their hotel, Chloe rides along. The rest of us make sleepy sounds, been an exciting night. I curl up with my girl and we do the unconscious thing.