Chapter Twenty Five III

…the individuals tell their stories to themselves, to each his own,
they are the ones who peer in and look at and notice things on a daily basis,
from the outside in a way; or rather, from a false outside,
from a generalized narcissism, sometimes known as ‘consciousness’.
Javier Marias, Your Face Tomorrow, Fever and Spear

There isn’t time to go far, to Chinatown or Central Park, so we walk to Washington Square Park. We sit on a bench practicing Japanese. Janah has the language down to conversational fluency, we are practicing subtleties and refreshing. Languages, any information or data, has to be used or it withers away; it deteriorates faster a physical skill like riding a bicycle. Janah lets lots of unused information slip from her, old research, she long ago gave up memorizing books she read, Google has an adequate memory. She could keep passages, entire books in long term memory, but she has to review them regularly, in her head. She found this to be pointless. She keeps necessities only, neuroscience, herbal remedies, Chinese, Japanese, enough French and Spanish to be understood. She knows tons of arcane words, doesn't retain things she considers trivial just because she can. 
Nikko, “The philosophy of both Buddhism and Krishnamurti seems to be understanding the self. They also teach transcending self. It seems contradictory.”
Janah, “It does doesn’t it?”
She isn’t going to answer or explain, rather let her look at it.
“It seems that the very attempt to go beyond self is about the self.”
“Can that be reconciled?”
Nikko is silent for a time. We watch the people passing through the park, vendors selling. No children, except for the very young out in strollers, or toddlers wandering around trying to find the filthiest possible thing to put in their mouth. Mommies or nannies keep an eye out to guard against success.
“The two of you are a self, and selves. I have meditated alone and now with you. The mind is always active, even though I have experienced its stillness at times. Even in the stillness, there is activity.”
Janah, “And what does that mean?”
“I am merely my thoughts. There is something else, it touches the mind occasionally, then it’s gone. At first, I tried to grasp it, that never worked. Daphne says not to hold on to it, to recreate it is only thought, not the thing. I learned not to want it or not want it, either is desire by the self to cling or to discard. Sometimes it all seems too elusive.”
“What is this it that eludes you?”
“What you call the bliss, you have said it’s the elimination of the self, or perhaps that’s not quite the way to say it. I’m not implying effort to eliminate the self, the sense of self goes.”
“Yes. I haven’t found a set of rules, or circumstances, that allows it to happen, it has been impossible to describe, to verbalize. Any description is from me, my self.”
“So why meditate?”
“Good question.”
“Mistress explains that you are in that state, meditation, all the time. It’s one difference between you, which defies the two as one. She says there are other smaller differences mentally as well. She says she’s found it possible to be in a prolonged meditative state occasionally, she still has to use the artificial setting of formal meditation to let the mind find silence. I haven’t experienced a completely still mind. I’m content to be verbally silent much of the time, that’s partially a natural reticence.”
“Daphne could come into the state when I do, she feels it’s more important to say with her hyperawareness, she’s very protective of me you’ve noticed.”
“It’s her role, She calls herself your amygdala.”
Janah giggles, “She is. It’s true. Let me ask you to think over something. I’m still working on this one, so don’t search for an answer, perhaps we can just explore the question.”
Nikko waits for her to continue.
“I’ve been thinking about the self, the various teachings, Buddhist, Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta, the neuroscience of it, particularly recent studies about free will. What is free will if we, according to the research, unconsciously gear up to take action a half second or more before the action is consciously taken? Is there free will at all? Is it instead more like free won’t, that we can only decide to negate an action, not initiate it, consciously? That doesn’t make any sense. Who is it that decides to negate? If there is one who can negate, there is one that can initiate. It’s the same thing, there would have to be an initiator of action either way. These questions float around with no answer, perhaps unanswerable with our current brainpower. What if we just aren’t smart enough to grasp it all, that we can see a part, get hints, raise questions, but in our current state of mental capacity, simply can’t compute all the variables? All our thinking and experiments can’t explain how it is that light acts like a particle and like a wave at the same time, or that it only becomes a particle when we observe it. How the same photon can appear in two different locations, how spooky action at a distance works. We can see that a thing happens, we can measure and record, we just can’t understand. What if the self is a barrier to that? In other words, what if the Uncertainty Principle applies to consciousness, the very act of measuring, interferes with the thing measured? On the other hand, I don’t think we should apply quantum physics haphazardly to things like brain activity and consciousness. There’s no evidence that quantum events apply to anything but subatomic matter and energy.”
“See what I have to put up with? She does this all the time. Fortunately hormones take over and we can get to the important stuff, like her jumping us.”
Nikko, “Perhaps the depth of thought arouses her.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. Okay, so let’s get back to the discussion, maybe she’ll be in a frenzy when we’re done.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s two women that make my hormones rage. Playing with you is how I give my neurotransmitters and nervous system a healthy treat, a girl treat. They love girl treats.”
“I guess there are worse things than being Janah’s snack food.”
Nikko, “I like being her Twinkie.”
We giggle, Nikko’s expressionless expression remains, Janah picks up the thread, “So, where were we? Oh, so I’m wondering about these things, then it occurred to me the other day to ask dad a question, which he’s still thinking over.”
“Must’ve been a pretty good question.”
“You heard, you were doing something with food in the kitchen, it likely didn’t register. I asked him if the self is the problem in mental illness. Not the obvious, there is a person, a self, who is mentally unbalanced. Is it what we call the self, itself the problem? Is the self the illness?”
Nikko, “You have to explain that one to me.”
“I’ll try, I’m stumbling around with it, dad hasn’t responded. Let’s see…okay, if we draw a graph, a typical line graph, with mild neuroses at the bottom left and make an upward sloping line of increasingly more difficult mental illnesses, we wind up at, say, homicidal psychopath at the end. Do you have the picture?”
“Yes, if the degree of illness is the level at which we become more and more dysfunctional and then harmful to others, then mildly neurotic is like zero or one, then as you list mental illnesses of increasing difficulty, then psychopath is at ten. A mild neurotic is one, the line slopes upward to psycho at ten. But what is the x axis? Y is the degree of mental illness, as we said, but what is the…oh, I see, you are saying the self is the x axis, as self increases, mental illness gets worse.”
“Yes. Now what can we say about each of the illnesses along the way in regard to the self?”
It is quiet for a while, Nikko stares out into the park. I watch the children noodling around, I know where Janah is headed and am giving Nikko time to think it over.
Nikko, “The anxious, depressed, addictive, a litany of disorders are about self absorption to various degrees, nothing like the psychopath, who sees the world in terms of nothing but himself. So it’s not the degree of self so much as the degree of self-absorption. The more self absorbed, the worse the mental problem.”
“Pretty smart for a martial artist.”
“Oriental mind, deep, mysterious, inscrutable to fluff brain gaijin.”
Janah and I look at each other and laugh, she continues, “So is the self the problem, the solution, both, neither, a little of each? I don’t want an answer, it’s a rhetorical question only. Some think the self is formed or informed by the defenses we build. Our mind, the part which is thought, builds the walls of self to feel secure, mistakenly concluding it’s how to be safe in the world.”
Nikko, “May I interrupt? You are constructing a theory, not positing a conclusion, I understand. My question is, why does the brain decide the best way to feel safe is to construct a self?”
“You have asked the zillion dollar question. Part of my theory is that, before self, the primitive brain, at some point just a central nervous system, evolved physical defenses that supports survival, this is obvious. The lobster’s hard shell, a wasp’s sting. It was also necessary to construct, evolve, physical attractions, to attract mates, to attract or discourage prey, so it could thrive. Then consciousness, self awareness, the ability to plan the next minute, then the next day, developed. The old way of dealing with the environment, everything from avoiding being eaten, to procreating, was about its own continuity. The obsession with continuity was already there. Since the self aware brain had no other template, its survival instincts said that to continue and thrive it should build walls of protection, deception, attraction. Looked at that way, a natural evolutionary progression, it’s hard to see how the mind would have developed any other way. The extreme risk takers got killed off, the no risk takers starved to death.”
I add, “We went wrong somewhere along the line. Consciousness might have given us the assurance we could meet and deal with challenges far better than our natural enemies, in a peaceful and cooperative way. That wasn’t the way of life for millennia before. So our brain stayed with what it knew, kill or be killed.”
Janah, “Daphne’s point is, did our species get consciousness before we were equipped to handle it? We got the keys to a Ferrari along with our first learner’s permit. It hasn’t turned out as well as it might have with more driver’s ed first.”
Nikko, “So we have super-capable brains and infantile minds?”
“Yes, that’s one way to put it, and we are confused by all of it. So the self that’s resulted is, at its best, mildly neurotic. Mild neuroses, things like suspicions, talismans, good luck charms, silly beliefs, can be seen as protections against a perceived hostile environment. The more threats we invent, the more we self protect and the more mentally disordered we are. The top of the disordered personality, sociopaths or psychopaths, see everyone else as tools solely for personal use, self glorification. Other people are merely objects, some harmless or useless, others potential threats to the self or self image. A psychopath is compelled to destroy every possible threat to the self, as his self is all consuming. To him, there simply is nothing of value unless it serves his self.”
“So then what?” I ask.
“I don’t know, which is why I like the problem. None of this touches on the brain chemicals. Is the self formulated out of the mixture of neurotransmitters, the peptides and proteins? Is it there in the first place? It can’t be, otherwise we would be a self out of the womb and we know that we become a self over time. A baby isn’t a complete self, her brain can’t handle it. As it develops, neurons multiply and make more and deeper connections, the self forms, this is obvious. Is it formed by merely our reaction to life? Or are there propensities, psychological propensities, built into the genetic code of each person, making it more likely that person ‘A’ will be only neurotic, while person ‘B’ with much the same life experience, becomes borderline, or schizophrenic or psychotic. Or is schizophrenia, for instance, purely a disease, or is the propensity in some individuals to become schizophrenic just part of their genetic code? It must have some genetic component, the illness often is passed down in genetically related families.”
“Most people watch TV, go to a ballgame, a museum or just have a drink with friends. Janah, on the other hand….”
Nikko, “My self could use a cup of tea. Master J opens all these boxes, scatters the contents all over the place, then just looks at them.”
We leave the park and head to a coffee shop a block over, “You have come to no conclusion about the role of the self then?”
Nikko is interested in things, she likes that Janah spends her time thinking about the unusual. She likes that Janah talks to her about it. She had been underestimated at school because she is quiet, they were wrong, Nikko has depth, she’s quiet mostly because she has no interest in the crap people talk about.
“As I said, I’m wondering, quite seriously, if the self is not just subject to mental illness, but is mental illness. Perhaps a mutation gone wrong. What if the us we regard so highly is nothing more than a mistake of nature? Wouldn’t that suck the air out of our self inflated balloon?”
Nikko, “Pop goes the ego.”
“This is all very brainy and stuff. When do we start talking about me?”
“Daphne, as usual, had wrapped up the entire discussion perfectly.”
Nikko, “You two are too smart. If I’ve got to do all this heavy thinking and watch out for both of you, I’ll need a raise.”
“We only pay you in sex.”
Nikko looks at Janah.
“How about doubling your salary?”
“Bonuses, options?”
“All you want.”
“Gaijin lame negotiators, I’d have stayed anyway.”
“I like to think of it as win-win.”
Nikko almost smiles.

Chapter Twenty Six III

To be that which you are is the bath of rebirth.
In the depths, living is not an unconditional persistence
but an endlessly slow growth.
Carl Jung, Liber Novus

Janah, “You’ve found it comfortable to talk with us, and we with you. We’ve revealed ourselves to you because we know you would never reveal us to others, which is part of the reason you are here.”
Nikko, “I felt from the first my place was with you, with Daphne as my instructor and more than that, an intimate. I surprised myself when it all seemed so natural to me. I was never attracted to boys, I never sought out a female either. I thought I might be asexual. Mistress awakened that part of me, I find her completely irresistible, am I being silly?”
“Silly? A woman so perceptive as to find me irresistible could hardly be described as silly. I find the conversation fascinating, please do continue.”
Janah rolls her eyes at Nikko who pulls me up from the couch and kisses me, geez, that face, I want to dive into her. We move to a higher plane, a late lunch at the Village Diner.
Chuck, “Hey ladies, good to see you, what’ll you have, hungry today?”
It’s after one, the lunch crowd has died down, I wave to a couple of regulars, Mini sticks his head in the pass through, “You want fries Daph”
“You bet Mini, how’s the most beautiful cook in the boroughs?”
Mini resembles a bulldog, one with a lot of scraps in his history, “Getting more beautiful by the hour honey,” he turns to his helpers, “grill some more vegetables for that sandwich, and make sure the omelet isn’t cooked like a rock, here let me do it.”
Janah giggles, “Mini’s his usual understated self.”
Nikko, “That’s the biggest man I’ve ever seen, he seems to grow every time we come in.”
“He’s six three or so, wide and thick. I know he goes three hundred and change. I swear he could heft the heavy end of a Humvee.”
Mini brings the food himself, grilled vegetable sandwich and a cheese omelet and fries like a mountain over the omelet.
“I presume there’s eggs buried at the bottom of this?”
Mini, “Just eat ‘til you get to the hard part, that’s the plate.”
“I haven’t had a kiss from a hunk all week.”
Mini leans over and kisses my cheek, then he snags one for Janah, “You are the most bee-you-tee-full thing on the planet, anything else ? Nikko, you set? God you two look alike, you bring Susan in here, I got triplets.”
“I woke up one day and Janah had cloned me, she said one wasn’t enough.”
Mini, “She should have two protectors, not that you couldn’t handle it, better having her covered on both sides.”
Mini sits next to me, “There’s another matter, I don’t have details, it just came up and I was gonna find you if you didn’t show today, I got Janah’s cell number from before, plus you live over Chapmans now, right? You mom and Miss Chris was in here, that’s what they told me.”
“That’s us. What’s going on?”
Mini looks briefly at Nikko.
Janah, “Nikko’s with us now, lives with us, one of us. One of her many talents is silence, you can tell her anything you’d tell us.”
Mini, “Got it. The Mayor would like to see you, quietly. It ain’t political, I told the guy who called me you don’t do politics. My contact said it’s nothing like that.”
Mini, “Can you stop by tomorrow, early, real early, like six?”
Janah nods at us, “Those two have already done a thousand pushups by then, we’ll be here, Daphne will have to nudge me awake, I sleep in.”
Mini, “Come through the alley, into the back, you can meet in the room that isn’t there.”
He means the room for private meetings in the back, just a table, half a dozen chairs, it says ‘storage’ on the door. There are various spare utensils, extra crockery, odds and ends stacked up against the walls to make it look like a storage room, adds a layer of soundproofing. It’s a meeting room for meetings that never happened. Cops met snitches, politicians met donors they didn’t want to be seen with publicly, guys meeting guys to sort out disputes. It is a neutral spot with guaranteed invisibility.
Mini lumbers to his kitchen, we finish lunch. Janah helps demolish the stack of fries. Nikko didn’t order anything, she had a sliver of my omelet and a piece of vegetable. The best I can tell, Nikko lives mostly on coffee, tea, and air.
Back in the condo, we spread out on the mat to digest and rest, essential for Nikko and me; when we practice, we go to the wall, then through it. Our bodies are under constant repair, explaining the need for all the massage and laying around. Careful nutrition planning insures Nikko gets the calories she needs. Since she doesn’t eat much at any one time, I make sure she has vitamins and supplements sprinkled throughout the day.
“Trying to make me fat.”
 “I’m not doing a very good job. When you gain a half pound, I’ll cut back, until then, consider it part of your training.”
“As mistress wishes,” she whispers softly, sly and sensual.
We’re curled up together on the padded mat, Janah surrounded, a situation she considers critical to her well being. A few soft kisses to her cheeks from both sides, and an hour and a half of delicious nap.
I stir, get up to make tea. After freshening, we sit on the floor drinking strong oolong.
The door opens, Lacy pops her head in, dressed in yoga gear, “This is a cozy scene, room for one more?”
“Grab some tea, I’d like another cup please, then we’ll get started. These two are headed down to class shortly.”
Lacy, “What did you guys get up to while I was overseeing the education of elite adolescent females.”
Janah, “We went to the park and discussed the world, our world anyway, then to the Village Diner where Mini tried to kill us with food, we prevailed yet again. For the last whatever, I was splendidly surrounded by these two, right here on the floor, napping my heart out.”
Lacy, “You really have it made, don’t you?”
“You betcha.”
Nikko and I dress for class, Janah into her stretchy pants and top for yoga, we go downstairs to class.
Lacy, “Janah, those two are stunning in their uniforms, black belts, black silk doboks. My students are so taken with them, and as you well know they aren’t typically impressionable high school girls. The younger ones want to be Daphne and Nikko lookalikes. I’m so fortunate to have Daphne back, Nikko is icing on the icing.”
“They enjoy the class, Daphne loves the girls. Nikko is like Sis, a sucker for the younger ones. She gave them all Japanese names.”
Lacy, “Ooooh, so that’s it. Stupid me, I should have realized. I hear some of the girls calling to each other in their Japanese names, I thought there must be some new television program with Japanese characters they’d latched on to.”
“Just the Nikko channel, she gave them a name and taught them how to spell it in kanji. I hope the parents don’t freak.”
“It’s a wonderful learning experience, geez, where else can they get such direct stimulation in a foreign language? The parents, the ones with sense, will be delighted. The rest will have to get over it.”
Two hours later, Nikko and I return drenched, we’d changed after class from silk doboks to the cotton workout ones. We had a hard one-on-one, I’m limping and Nikko is massaging her wrist and elbow.
“Geez, can’t you two stay put together for even a week? Get out of those nasty doboks and shower, hurry up, I want to get everything iced up.”
My foot is propped on a bolster, frozen gel pack on the ankle, Nikko iced up from elbow to wrist, with a long ace bandage wrapped the length of her forearm to support the gel packs. Janah sees that her hip has a nice round bruise where I’d sailed her to the hard gym floor.
Janah, “Okay, turn to your side,” she lays two more packs on her hip and covers them with a towel, “let the ice sit on your hip for 20 minutes or so, I want it nice and frozen. Anything else on you Daphne?’
“No, just the ankle. Sneaky devil is getting too fast. I kicked her and left my foot out a fraction of a second too long, she snatched it in those long bony fingers and had me on the floor before I knew it. Her grip is getting as nasty as yours. I found out she’s been doing fingertip pushups for years, I wish I’d known earlier.”
Janah, “Was that before or after you tried to dislocate her elbow?”
“I got her right after she slammed me, before the ankle started to throb. She dropped me, I rolled and started to stand, Nikko tried to take my head off, I grabbed her wrist with one hand, shoulder with the other and threw her. I twisted the wrist, I don’t know what happened with the elbow.”
Nikko, “Hit the floor, I didn’t fall properly. It was so quick, I stuck my arm out to land palm down. My elbow still hit the floor a fraction before my hand.”
"No more crap. From now on, if you’re throwing, you have to work on the mats. We have things to do, I can’t have chipped or broken bones with refocusings coming up. Use sense, girls.”
Janah says this very quietly, gently, never gets angry. What she gets is even more soft spoken than normal. She’s right, while playing around with Nikko is fun, I should know to keep it controlled aggression. Janah doesn’t care about a twisted ankle or wrist, or a bruise on a butt, she could fix that in a day or two. Broken bones are much more troublesome. If it had happened where it couldn’t be helped, during a refocusing or even an accident, that was one thing. Too risky to do open full contact throws on a wooden floor.
“You’re right, what can I say? Mats it is. Forgiven?”
“You hardly need forgiveness for busting you butt to keep your edge. After all, it’s for me and for jobs we do. Now, give me the ice bags and wait until I get back with the liniment. See Lacy, I have my own children to look out for, just like the Headmaster.”
“Mine don’t beat each other up, well, I guess they do in Daphne’s class. Did they watch you two go at it?’
“Oh no. We practice forms until they’re gone. I don’t want them thinking what Nikko and I do is something they should be doing.”
It’s almost seven, I rustle up pasta with herbal olive oil and Italian bread; after, we watch a lame movie, Lacy and Janah spoon together on the mat, me on the couch with Nikko’s head in my lap. It is just after nine, they're almost asleep. Lacy kisses everyone, heads to her apartment yawning. We do bathroom things and find our spots in bed, out for the count just before ten.

Chapter Twenty Seven III

In the end,
it’s the animal,
always the animal.

Janah did her magic, my limp is gone. The swelling on Nikko’s elbow subsided, still tender, her wrist is stiff, she can still flex it, no major damage.
The weather is chilly, Uggs cover the ankle wrap, Nikko’s shirt and parka hide the elbow support, there mostly to keep her from a painful bump against something. Long years of martial arts led to a hospital supply of wraps, braces, supports and Janah’s liniments at the apartment, the dojang and the condo; injuries are a way of martial life..
We hit the kitchen door of the Village Diner with five minutes to spare, to the storage room with tea and coffee. The Mayor sits, introduces Mo, who takes up almost one entire side of the table. He reminds Janah of Chan, or perhaps Chan in a few years, built like a concrete block, taller than Chan by a couple inches, Korean, not Chinese.
Mayor, “Mo knows Mini from, uh, around. He also knows someone called Master Kim, who I understand was one of your martial arts instructors.”
He pauses, if he is waiting for any discernible response, he would wait a long time.
“Geez, I feel like I’m in here alone. This is nothing like a city council meeting, nobody there shuts up. Okay, I’ll get to the point. I met Daphne briefly some time back, right here in the diner. I had a feeling, being a political survivor you get an instinct. I asked a few questions and left it. Her reputation with some of the transit guys, a couple of well respected detectives, the thing in Chinatown and comments I picked up about Ms. Svensson sat in the back of my head. Another political survivor thing, you store information, most of it you keep to yourself. The trick to surviving is to be gregarious, a pal to everyone but never tell anyone much of anything. They spill, you don’t spill.”
One side of his lip curls in an ironic half smile, “Just like you’re doing to me now.”
A short pause, no movement anywhere in the room.
“Something’s come up that’s nothing political, except it happens I’m the Mayor. Mo is technically a bodyguard, his other job is smoothing out apolitical issues, by that I mean non public ones. The public takes an interest in everything I do. It’s part of the deal, anybody can’t handle that, don’t run for office. There’s always things, human things, old friend or family matters that aren’t really the public’s business, except they think because I’m the Mayor I should have nothing private. They’d put a reporter in my bedroom if they could think of a public interest reason. I have to have my own bedroom swept for bugs every day, you believe that? It’s true. And I never have a meaningful conversation in my own office, or on any phone except one.”
Janah, “An encrypted sat phone in someone else’s name.”
“Yeah, how’d you guess?”
“I have one.”
He’s quiet for a bit, we sip our drinks, the slam bang of Mini’s kitchen as the early birds filter in. Mini’s voice rumbles through the door like high end bass speakers in a pimped out Escalade.
“The thing happened at Fong’s in Chinatown, Mo talked to Marsconi, then to Master Kim after he asked Mini about you. Kim wouldn’t say much, Marsconi didn’t know much, other than he said he didn’t know two experienced cops who could have pulled off the Fong’s deal like you did. Kim told Mo only one thing, said anyone wanted trouble with Daphne better bring more than three punks with guns. Mo says Kim don’t say stuff just to talk tough. What I want doesn’t require you detach anyone’s body parts…maybe it does, I don’t know. Frankly though, I don’t give a crap what happens to the people who are the subject of this meeting.”
Quiet again for a few seconds, he collects his thoughts, then, “My sister lives upstate. She has a daughter, nineteen, apparently got caught up in a religious cult. She claims the cult got her off drugs, turned her life around, blah, blah. We didn’t take it at face value, her mother got a DVD that showed her to be in good condition, she even smiled a couple of times.”
Janah is intent on the story, the Mayor looks at her, “Beth, that’s my niece, last name’s Freeman, has made it a point not to tell people she’s related to me. It avoids attracting people who want something besides her friendship. I’m guessing, hoping, they still don’t know. I don’t care about me, I’m worried they might get scared, hurt or kill her if they find out.”
Janah, “You want us to get her out?”
“Cut to the chase don’t you? Yes, I want her out, hidden away and talked down. None of it is legal. I can’t sick the state cops on them, I can’t even hire a private detective.”
“There are people who do this for a living, why not them?”
“I don’t trust them to keep it private. I know they say they will, but in my position…”
“They could be tempted to use it as advertising, bring attention to themselves, save the Mayor of New York’s niece.”
“Exactly. Don’t get me wrong, if it was life and death, I wouldn’t hesitate to call out all the dogs. Problem is, I don’t know what the hell this is about. It’s been going on for at least a month. When she left school, her mother didn’t even know. Nobody knew until her mother called her and got nothing on her cell phone. Not even a ring, nothing. She called the university, they told her she’d quit attending classes the first month into the spring semester. She’d called her mother, never mentioned not being in school, sent her e-mails like she was attending class. That’s how they communicated mostly, e-mail. Then my sister got an e-mail saying Beth and her boyfriend were going to the beach for spring break, the college is in North Carolina. Her mother accepted that she was growing up and thought she was treating her like an adult, not demanding she come home every possible opportunity.”
Janah, “And going down to the school was more parenting they thought she didn’t need.”
“I guess. My sister has her faults, she’s never been up for mom of the year, but she wasn’t neglectful. It’s not her current husband’s child. Beth’s real dad lives overseas, isn’t around. Beth was just a typical young girl as far as I could tell. She’s friendly enough, not outgoing, looked forward to college, no brilliant student, no scholarship or anything. She was passing and doing college girl stuff, at least for a semester. She came home for Christmas. I even saw her. She seemed fine to me. She mentioned a casual boyfriend who went to his folks, somewhere in the south. That relationship had just started up, it didn’t seem like a big deal. She didn’t go on and on about him, barely mentioned him other than as someone she had a couple of coffee dates with. She gave some indications later, to her mom, it got more serious, said his name was Tommy, never a last name.”
Janah, “So he did a good job of staying under everyone’s radar?”
Mayor, “In hindsight, he was almost invisible. We got one thing, we think it might be him, even this is a maybe.”
Janah waits, Mo hands over a small envelop, inside there is a photo, a partial side shot of a guy. Dark curly hair, hollow cheeks, two day growth of beard, like any of a zillion twenty something guys. There is one thing to hang on to, a small silver cross dangles from his ear.
“Beth took it, e-mailed it to her mother right after the New Year. The guy may be nobody. It’s from a group of photos, three or four, of a band playing at the school. Beth’s e-mail didn’t talk about the guy, just that the band played there. Some band college kids would know, didn’t mean anything to me.”
Janah, “What do you know about this group, cult if that’s what it is?”
Mayor, “Almost zero. Mo checked it out as far as he can, which is near zero.”
Mo, “Call themselves children of the prophet. Don’t know who’s the so-called prophet. Don’t know the point of the religion or if there is one. The only point so far is what Beth said on the tape, the DVD I mean, I’m old school, still call everything a tape. Anyway, young women on drugs are supposedly counseled off drugs. They have a website that says almost nothing, lots of generalities you could find on any religious site, no names, no addresses, couple of pictures of happy people, all stock shots you could download from anywhere, you know, kids around campfires, dogs, children at the park.”
Janah, “Interesting, no way to contact them.”
Mo, “Not so much as an e-mail address.”
Janah, “Anything useful from the IP address?”
Mayor, “What’s an IP address?”
Janah, “The site had to be set up from a computer somewhere. Every computer linked to the web has an IP address. It can be tracked to the internet service provider. Gives you some idea of location. If you’re the government, have a subpoena or a talented hacker, you can find out whose individual computer it came from.”
Mo, “I’m on it.”
Janah, “Don’t expect much. They would have to be really stupid to set up the site from a personal location. Likely it was a library, net café or proxy server. It’s a long shot. It still needs to be explored. It may tell us where the person who set it up was when it was set up, and the last time it was used.”
Mo, “I’ll find it today. You’ll know this afternoon.”
Mayor, “Got any first impressions?”
Janah, “My suspicion is it’s nothing to do with a religious cult, not in any traditional sense. It’s a complicated way to exercise control over young women.”
Mo, “Girls that hard to get these days?”
Janah, “It’s not that hard to find agreeable women for sex, and it’s not hard to find druggies. So they either want to use these girls for money or for power, personal gratification. Doesn’t really matter, they need to have the plug pulled.”
Mo, “Kind of what I thought.”
Mayor, “Will you look into it? There’s no problem with money, I’ll pay you whatever you want, just pull her out. I cannot believe she’s there voluntarily, at least the Beth I knew. It was all too quick, a semester of happy-go-lucky college freshman, home for Christmas, perfectly normal, then a month to druggie or cult follower. It doesn’t add up. If I hadn’t seen her for a year, maybe she could have gone wrong. Not like this. When I saw her, she was Beth, there was nothing strange or different.”
Janah, “Then she’s being used, maybe abused, I hope not. As for money, we have resources. Let me think over how to approach this. I don’t know what I can do until I have data. I assume Mo is our contact?”
Mayor, “Yes. One money question does occur. What if it’s a ransom deal? I can get some cash, a million is doable, two million is not, for instance.”
Janah, “No ransom.”
Mayor, “How do you know they don’t want money?”
Janah, “I don’t. I know we aren’t going to pay it. There’s a guy she knows. If he was legitimate, he’d be looking for her, calling her mom. That hasn’t happened. If Beth knows who he is, and he wants a ransom…”
Mo, “Then he can’t leave her alive.”
Janah nods no.
Mayor, “Shit on a shingle. So if they ask for a ransom, we have more problems?”
Janah, “I don’t think ransom is the purpose. If it was a kidnapping for money, they would have said so by now. Keeping a hostage is a pain. The longer it goes, the more trouble it is.”
Mayor, “Then it’s something else, and it isn’t good. Now I hope it’s as simple as a religious cult, not something uglier. Look, if you want to decline, just say so and give me the courtesy of forgetting this entire conversation.”
Janah, “Mo, you don’t want to be seen with us. Do you want to deal with Mini or Master Kim?”
Mo, “This is good for meetings, Mini is very reliable, it’s still a public place. Kim is guaranteed invisibility.”
Janah, “We’ll front our end until this is over, see him with any details. If we need something, Kim will contact you. If it isn’t Kim, it isn’t us.”
Mayor, “You’re taking the job?”
Janah, “We can’t leave her stuck with these guys, do you want me to hazard a guess?”
Mayor, “It’s uglier than I think?”
Janah, “Likely.”
Mayor, “Tell me, I won’t tell my sister until she needs to know. For me, I was in `Nam, I’ve seen ugly, very ugly.”
Janah, “There’s more than meets the eye. Cults don’t hide unless there’s something to hide, they don’t addict people then un-addict them, there’s enough druggies to go around already. Cults substitute one addiction for another, not to mention druggies are trouble, hard to manage. My nastiest guess is she’ll be dead, or as good as, if she isn’t found soon.”
The Mayor gets quiet, everyone else is already quiet. There is kitchen noise, nothing else.
Mayor, “I don’t know, I mean, you think you can get her out? These guys may be, I don’t know what, armed, weird, dangerous. I mean, it’s just you three, I don’t mean to insult anyone, but…”
Janah, “If we need more firepower, we know where to get it, that’s not a problem. We get a lot accomplished because it’s three women. People make stupid assumptions.”
Mayor, “You got grit.”
Janah, “I got Daphne and Nikko.”
Mo has the barest hint of a smile, one corner of his lip raised about a millimeter.
Janah, “One more question.”
Mayor, “Sure.”
Janah, “Where do we bring the girl?”
Mo’s smile widens to another whole millimeter, “Call Kim, he’ll call me. Time of day doesn’t matter.”
Janah, “Kim will call. We didn’t have this meeting, we don’t know you, we came here for breakfast and Mini fed us a lot of food. We’ll wait here until you leave, Mr. Whoever You Are. Tell your sister if Beth is with these people, we’ll get her.”
Mayor, “Maybe I’ll just let it rest for now. I mean, we don’t even know where the hell she is…”
Janah interrupts, “We’ll find her, then we’ll take her.”
Mayor, “Just like that.”
“Just like that.”
“What if they get difficult, or she’s unwilling?”
“Until her family talks to her, away from these people, she doesn’t get a vote. If these guys get difficult, it’s only going to make Daphne and Nikko more enthusiastic. The children of the prophet will not want them more enthusiastic.”
Mo’s lip raises an entire third millimeter, practically a silly grin for him.
Janah, “Any other contacts, tell Kim, anything at all. Where was the DVD mailed from?”
The Mayor looks at Mo, who says, “Postmarked in West Virginia.”
Janah, “Okay, they aren’t in West Virginia then, narrows it down to all the rest of the states, not Hawaii, they didn’t fly her anywhere legally. It’s likely she’s in the East still, maybe Midwest. Too much travel is trouble with a kidnap victim. Where’d the pictures come from?”
Mo, “She had a digital camera, the camera was in her apartment, we don’t know if anything in the photos are relevant. The guy though, that’s interesting.”
Janah, “Yes, it is. Too much to hope the apartment is still vacant?”
Mo, “Rented a couple weeks ago.”
Janah, “The stuff in it?”
Mo, “Came furnished. Her personal stuff was shipped back to her mother. For what it’s worth, I went through it, I know what I’m looking for. There was nothing unusual, no dope, no diary, no love notes, just girl stuff, clothes. You’d never know she had a boyfriend.”
Janah, “Then she met him at his place. Was there a laptop, had to be, college girl.”
Mo, “Yeah. Want me to get it?”
“Man I hope nobody’s diddled with it, get it quickly, we can dig out what’s there. Any other electronic stuff, organizer, cell phone, I need a picture of her.”
Mo, “You got it.”
Mayor, “Have it flown in today Mo.”
Mo, “I’m on it, whatever is there, it’ll be at Kim’s tonight.”
Janah, “Please tell Kim to call me the second he has it.”
Mayor, “Anything else?”
“We’ll let you know.”
Mayor, “Thank you.”
It’s six thirty, we wait ten minutes, then down the hall leading into the restaurant. I stop to chat with Mini, Janah to the ladies room, I leave Mini and sit in a booth, Janah joins me a minute later. Nikko comes in the front door and we do a hugging ritual as if she’d just met up with us. It’s probably wasted energy, still prudent given the number of reporters or political enemies that might be nosing around, even at six in the morning. The Mayor had the sense to wear a big winter hat and muffler, he came in a taxi alone, Mo came in behind him in a separate taxi. When they left, Mo hailed another taxi and when it pulled to the curb, he waived the Mayor in and it left, the driver oblivious to his fare. It’s cold, the Mayor has a warm car and driver, right? He’d never be in their cab. Mo got into a town car right behind them, scanned the area, nothing.
Chuck comes over as if we’d just shown up, he doesn’t have time to chat anyway, the breakfast crowd is filling up the place. Like any great New York diner, the food is on the table before it seems physically possible for the waiter to take the order to the pass through, like there was some diner time warp wormhole that cooked what you ordered before you ordered it. It isn’t fast food, the omelets and waffles weren’t piled up in a food warmer ahead of time. But before you have your coffee stirred, the waiter is banging down plates and slapping the check on the table. Janah thought car companies and airlines ought to study Manhattan diners, maybe they wouldn’t always be going bankrupt.
We enjoy the food, busy eating, little conversation. It’s only shortly after seven when we finish and today we don’t linger, the place has people waiting. I pay the check, wave at Mini, we head for the moms’ condo.

Chapter Twenty Eight III

“I love great food. That’s why I don’t cook.”
Susan Sylk

Susan, “I’m glad Nikko called, I would have pouted if my new bestie had forgotten to indulge me in hair brushing.”
Nikko is busy doing just that, today chatting with Janah in Japanese while Sis and I drink a second or third cup of coffee. I’m occupying her with dinner plans for the weekend and questions about her business and progress on C-mom’s book.
It finally pops into her head to ask, “Why do I get the whole crowd this morning?”
“Janah wanted to go to the diner, it was really early.”
Susan, “If you’re in the mood, you can make me some toast and fruit. I’d do it myself, except I’m busy being cared for.”
“You mean except if you made toast it would resemble the aftermath of a forest fire.”
Susan, “Hey, I can do things!”
“Yes, and if toast came out of a laptop, it would be perfect, but it involves machinery with which you have no familiarity.”
Janah joins me in the kitchen while Nikko grills Susan with questions about her business and investments. If the five women, Mrs. Fong, Sis, Ari Murakami, Mrs. Epstein and Nikko had come together as money managers, they would make a formidable investment conglomerate. Susan is the intermediary, the link between all of them. Each learned from the others, some of both Susan’s and Kara’s money is being handled by Mrs. Epstein in foreign markets. The combined portfolios are adding up to not small change and the shared wisdom is paying off in healthy well diversified returns.
Susan explains how she uses index funds with minimal buying and selling, then explained bonds to Nikko. Nikko understands interest rates and business ledgers from her experience in the stores. Susan is more sophisticated on the detailed accounting side, Kara has no interest in it, she’s happy to let Susan and Mrs. Epstein do the investing. Unlike Dr. Epstein, James pays attention to it and could have filled in if necessary. Naturally Janah, the family’s flash drive, has all of it in her head and she looks over account statements monthly to keep herself updated. 
I serve Sis toast and fruit, when Chris appears I get her caloried up, Janah finds Kara in her studio and she joins us. Janah isn’t ruminating over the Mayor’s problem just yet, she doesn’t have enough information to ruminate over. Kim will call when Mo delivers the laptop and any other accessories. It isn’t a Society project, still, they would look into things when we could point to something to look into.
Kara, “What are you guys doing up and fed so early?”
“We went to bed early and everyone woke up ravenous, too early to call here, so we went to the diner and let Mini try to kill us with calories.”
Kara, “Ah, so that’s why we’re eating and you guys aren’t.”
“We’re waddling around full of eggs, waffles, vegetables, fruit, toast, the whole menu. Janah may actually have to wait two or even three hours to eat again.”
Janah takes a chunk of croissant and plops plum jelly on it.
“Or not.”
Chris, “Girl has appetites, I can relate.”
Susan, now undistracted, tracked the anomaly, “You guys didn’t go out in the cold to let Mini load you up, Daphne is too good about that at home. Janah is not going to leave two cozy girls and the condo on a freezing day to eat waffles. You had some reason to go over there and you don’t want to, or…no, you can’t say. Tell me I’m right.”
“Plotting with Nikko every morning is making you too smart, is it the hair brushing?”
Susan, “It’s just Nikko. Good, so I’m right, you had a meeting, something to do.”
“We’ll likely have to travel soon, not this week. Sorry moms, any more information is off limits as usual. Same rules as always, if anyone asks, at Chapmans, Chris’ school, anyone, we’re doing a project that’s keeping us at the temple or just away.”
Susan, “We know what to do, I just wanted to be right. I’m feeling very smug. So, moving along, what shall we chat about?” 
We make light conversation, the three of us start making going home moves. I remind them they are due at the apartment Saturday for dinner as we bundle up.
Chris, “Bring anything?”
“We’ve got it handled, about six?”
Chris, “We’ll be there, angel. Look, you guys be careful about whatever it is that isn’t. I know you don’t want us involved, I hear you. But if it’s complicated…”
Janah, “If it’s complicated I can get Chan, Black, or an entire monastery of Shaolin monks with a phone call. I’d rather not involve Black, don’t want to put him in an untenable position with the temple.”
Chris, “Then why Chan?”
“Chan is not the temple’s, not really. He’s Janah’s, I don’t mean she owns him or anything, it’s how he sees himself. For him, it’s how it is and how he wants it to be.”
Chris, “So if you need someone, a fourth, for your work….”
Janah, “Chan couldn’t comprehend that it would be anyone else. I want him where he is for now, learning, working with Tan. Soon, it will be time.” 
Chris, “When he leaves the temple….”
Janah, “If he wishes, we’ll have a place for him, there’s room to build another apartment on the floor.”
“There’s no if he wishes, Chan would sleep on the doorstep in front of Chapmans if that what Janah needed him to do.”
Chris, “They are wonderful boys, men now really. They have three moms too, you, Janah and Nikko.”
“Never enough moms. I’m sure you guys have real work to do, we’re off, see you Saturday.”
I hug Chris tightly, kiss her cheek, then the other, “Okay, I’ve got to let you get to work, I’d stay and get hugged all day.”
As we ride down the steps, Nikko says, “C-mom is very special person. There’s something I feel from her, love, strength. It surrounds her, like Master J.”
“They have things in common, always have. Chris has been like that since before Janah, steady, always giving, Sis has never, not once, had an unhappy day with C-mom. Of course, with me as a daughter, it’s hard to justify an unhappy day.”
Janah pokes me in the ribs, “Extra Ch’an pushups for de Seelk, or, alternatively, you can massage me when we get home.”
“That’s my idea of punishment. How about Nikko and I both massage you, does that appeal?”
Janah, “Rhetorical question.”
Nikko, “Does that mean yes?”