Chapter Twenty Five
Dasha has a YouTube on her screen, " Dahfoney, ees motorcycle fun?"
"Well, I've ridden dirt bikes, we were on a job on Montana, not much time for fun, and Black has taken me for a ride on his Harley."
"What ees dirty bike?"
"Made for riding on dirt, hills. Knobby tires to grip the ground, lighter than a street bike."
"You will get me dirty bike."
"Sure, we'll check around town and see who sells them. I can show you the basics, probably a ton of YouTube videos."
"Can it ride on track?"
"Yes, but that's not what it's for, that would be a racing bike, different thing altogether."
"We haf cars for track, I will get dirty instead."
I’m thinking with all the engines, Amaya’s joke about a gas pump is not a joke.
Three weeks later, we have an underground gas tank next to the hangar. Our cars all run on premium, the dirt bike doesn't need it, but it doesn't hurt to use it. Dasha took a few lessons from the dealer, they delivered her bike and she's been out every day since. It isn't geared for competition, well muffled, once she's at the edges of the property we barely hear it.
The lighted track and drive will be finished in two weeks, today workers are installing other ground lights around the property. Not a lot, we want to see how we like it, but they are solar powered and the light only makes a circle maybe ten feet in diameter. They look like small plants with blue tops, the solar part. The contrast is good in the daytime, Dasha won't run over them with the bike.
Daria wanted to ride with her sister, so she went to the same place, got her lessons and a second bike. They look darling dangerous in their gear, Oceane loves to watch them scream up the mountain and bounce around the property. One or the other wipes out occasionally, good thing we have qi and gallons of David Li's concentrated liniment. We have to put them back together every few days. They wear helmets of course, I also insisted on knee, wrist and elbow pads like for inline skating.
Danika and Su learn to operate the bikes, they need to be ridden when we're not around, keeps the engine oiled and the battery charged. Same for the karts and the cars.
Su, "I went from studying Buddhist texts to racing Formula One and dirt bikes. And now our contemplative contemplates go karts."
Janah, "Buddha would be pleased with your accomplishment. Life is to be enjoyed and fully lived."
"Master Tan stayed in a hut for sixty years."
"His Buddha nature. He would have been overjoyed at Shaolin monks on wheels while grumbling about mechanical devices and noise."
Su, "Danika is showing another side of herself. She is generally silent and meditative, now she has an energetic glow. Daria showed me how to change the tires on the race car, then they drained the engine oil and refreshed it. Perhaps Buddha wishes me to contemplate grease."
Chapter Twenty Six
After breakfast, Janah says, "We have to travel. All our Social Workers are either on required break or involved in refocusings elsewhere. This is a trailer trash job, nothing upscale, not a gated neighborhood with a malicious hubby. Our target is a thirtyish male minor meth dealer in Barstow California, sometimes called the meth capitol of America. That's because a lot of meth moves through town headed elsewhere, but with a population of under twenty five thousand, there are a disproportionate number of addicts."
Nikko, "We aren't going to solve the meth problem there or anyplace else."
Janah, "No, drug abuse isn't our problem. We deal in abuse of a different kind. How people abuse themselves is their business. When they abuse others, and it comes to our attention, then we get their attention. In this case, it's meth dad and meth mom. Two children, a boy of six, a girl of thirteen. I don't have to explain how mom and dad decided to pay for their habit do I?"
Nikko, "The girl."
"And the boy."
Nikko, "I'm in. Do dad and mom get to live? I hope not."
Su and Danika know what we do, but this is the first time it has been discussed with them present.
Janah, "We only kill Shadows unless it's a life threatening situation. We go in, take the kids, refocus mom and dad, come home."
Nikko, "The kids willing?"
"The girl wants out, can't leave the boy with mom and dad. It’s a six hour drive, up 89 to I-40 west directly to Barstow. You want to drive or fly?”
Nikko, “Amaya can drive, she’ll do it in five hours.”
Amaya, “Or less.”
I crank out fake licenses and car registration, they'll take one of the used SUVs, the Navigator, swap plates from a stock we keep just for this reason. This trip we'll be from Nevada. Hard to know if the fake registrations help, if someone or cctv catches our plate, it doesn't lead to us. I figure an overabundance of caution is better than not.
Amaya drives, Nikko and Zi will make this trip, Su asks to go.
"Any reason she shouldn't?"
Janah, "None I can think of."
"Sure, go along, might be good for the kids. Nikko will explain procedure on the way."
Barstow is one of those places that's just there, leftover from a gold rush century before last. It's a railroad switch point, I-15 and I-40 converge, likely because Barstow is halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Why Los and Las? In Spanish, nouns are either masculine or feminine. Angeles is a masculine noun and meadows, vegas, is a feminine noun. How the desert of Las Vegas got to be named after meadows I haven't a clue. Guess it sounded better than Las Arenas, the sands, but they did name a casino The Sands. De nada.
Route 66 also runs through Barstow, the original ran from Chicago to Santa Monica. Along came the Interstate system and it became more a series of secondary state roads with a few historical markers. Aside from railroads, the major industries of Barstow are heat and dirt. It is the Mojave Desert after all.
Nikko, "Su, the way we handle these things is pretty straightforward. Front the target, in this case two targets. The kids will be in school according to Surveillance. We readjust their current mindset to something more appropriate, less inappropriate anyway. That involves physical coercion, targets don't relate to reason or verbal persuasion. It's like being reasonable with a religious fundamentalist, a pointless futility. Everyone understands pain, that's where we find common ground."
She outlines the departments in the Society, Surveillance, Transportation, Extraction, Placement, Minders and Social Workers or Social Skills, we use the terms interchangeably. How nobody knows anyone else, just the people they work with directly. We don't have company meetings, it isn't a company. People are paid well, in cash, by the job. If they travel, Transportation makes arrangements.
Su, "I didn't realize how extensive it is."
"It wasn't at first, it was Janah, Daphne and a few others. It grew over the years, Janah decided to stop at the current size. The Society has operated under the radar, there's no talk of a secret vigilante network, no curious agencies. Janah has numerous contacts in government, they don't know her as Janah of course. She facilitates interagency cooperation when they can’t cooperate openly. The price is their assistance when we want information, or to block inquiry into our activities. Sometimes we want information from a local authority who doesn't feel cooperative. They get a call from someone further up the food chain, we get what we need."
Su, "Are the jobs difficult, don't people have guns, argue with you, want to fight or run?"
"We have first strike advantage, they don't know we're coming, we're just there. We don't play fair, if I need to cold cock someone, I do it. I don't invite them to fight unless the situation calls for humiliation in front of pals for instance, normally we go for quick control."
Su, "What am I to do?"
Nikko, "In this case we have Daddy Meth and Mommy Meth. If they're flat and out of it, it's easy, we control them, usually with restraints, sometimes with drugs. Then we refocus. It's not gentle. If they're wired, that makes for more trouble, high energy and lousy judgment. We're going to play rough either way, only difference is if we have to play rough before we play rough. Remember, there are no rules. If you need to get engaged, use the available vulnerable body part, knee, groin, throat, eyes, full force. This isn't sparring practice."
Zi, "Change of pace for a contemplative."
Su, "Yes, but we are Shaolin, they made us practice gung fu like everyone else. Danika and I have sessions twice a week, and we use those remarkable qi dummies you have. Neither of us intends to let our hard won skills deteriorate. In our sparring, the only rule is she can't use qi, not her level of qi, I couldn't deal with that."
I'm tuned in to Nikko, multitasking by the pool. I'm also admiring Oceane's form on the board, and off the board. After a dive, she swims the length of the pool, climbs out and walks veeerrrry slooowwwly past me back to the board.
This time she pauses in front of me, hands on her thighs, one leg cocked to the side, "Is my form good?"
"Good doesn't begin to cover it."
I get a coy smile and a posterior view as she goes to the boards. She stops, looks over her shoulder. She wins, I'm checking her out. Her foot must itch, she bends over straight legged to scratch it. I quiver.
Nikko, "You are a filthy lesbian slut."
"Maybe we should have included Danika, we could qi these pukes silent and deal from there."
"Danika didn't ask to go, Su did, besides, you like beating them up. Good hunting."
"Oceane is a pure work of art, makes me a lesbian slut too."
"It's good to understand yourself, can't get what you want unless you know what you want. Tonight, I plan to give Oceane anything she wants as long as she wants."
Amaya, "This is our target's hood. Surveillance says they are in their happy dilapidated dump, doing whatever perverted meth addicts do while the kids are in school. We could just burn it down with them in it."
Nikko, "No fun in that, let's introduce ourselves. Zi, around back in case they think we're narcs. Su keep an eye on one side of the house, Amaya will watch the other. Daphne will mental status from me to Amaya, she'll signal you to go in with a short beep on the horn. No beep means they're trying to bolt."
Nikko, "Going in Daphne."
"I'm on it."
Nikko knocks on the door, not a cop bang, just a knock. If she doesn't get an answer and they don't try for windows or the back door, then she kicks it in.
Not necessary, Daddy Meth opens the door. Nikko can hit plenty hard, and with her brass knuckles on, she hits devastatingly hard. Daddy Meth flies back into the living room. Looks more like a dying room, what a mess.
Mommy Meth is wired tight, screams, "Hey what the fucking fuck!"
Nikko, "Shut up," second shot to Mommy's jaw, it's never going to work the same, an ancillary benefit to humanity.
I hear the horn, Zi kicks in the back door, Su in the still open front door. Daddy Meth is on his feet and despite a badly mashed nose, going for Nikko.
Su slips her foot through his ankles, Daddy Meth falls face first on what used to be a carpet before it became toxic waste. He rolls and starts to stand, Su's heel on his throat discourages him. He tries to grab her ankle, Zi grabs his hand and breaks his wrist. For good measure she stomps his shin, there's a sharp crack. Daddy Meth won't be walking soon.
Meanwhile, Mommy Meth, as wired as Dad, beats a retreat to the kitchen, finds a butcher knife and turns to face Nikko. Dumb shit. While Mommy is waving the knife around disjointedly and screaming, Nikko picks up the filthy cast iron frying pan on the counter and whaps Mommy senseless.
Nikko, "Let's finish this, we can be back home by dinner."
Sad sight, Mom and Dad tied like chickens, Zi has to stick ammonia caps under what's left of their noses. She wants them both sensate, Nikko isn't going to have the same conversation twice, that would be inefficient.
Daddy Meth is more capable of talking, Mommy has a dysfunctional jaw.
"Fuck's going on? We ain't got shit, what'd we do to you?"
Nikko, "Not about us, it's about you, selling your kids to support your habit. That's fucking low, like what's underneath what's underneath the rock."
Daddy Meth, "Don't sell no kids, thass bullshit."
"Got it on audio and video, your wasted face, Mommy in the background, handing them over, handing them over a half dozen times."
"Somebody done run a game on you bitch."
Nikko, "Oh well, guess we got suckered. But now you've called me a bitch, I've got to make you pay for that."
Daddy Meth, "Pay? Hah! See any shit looks like money round here?"
Nikko, "I'm out of time, which means you're out of time. Here's how this is going to go. You and the other scarecrow can do all he drugs you want. You just can't pimp your kids to pay for them. We're taking the kids, leaving you with a reminder of your stupidity."
"They's our kids, you can't just take them."
Nikko, "Watch me."
Zi wraps Dad and Mom's mouth with duct tape, the Gorilla kind, it's really thick and sticky.
Nikko takes Daddy Meth's forefingers and thumbs with her blade, repeats with Mommy Meth. Imagine life without an opposable thumb and a forefinger, three fingers both hands. The Meth's don't have to imagine anymore.
Zi injects them with a sedative and does a quick triage to the stumps. Extraction will collect the kids and take them to one of our ranches. There, they will be with other kids from equally crappy experiences, in a safe, healthy environment where nobody treats them like victims.
Chapter Twenty Seven
Amaya, "Car ran like a dream."
"The Navigator isn't that used, thirty thousand miles I think, pristine condition. It just isn't loaded with the frills we have on the Escalades."
Nikko, "Wasn't like we needed GPS to get around Barstow, it's so...nothing."
"What did you think Su?"
"A brutal business, handled efficiently. Didn't take a half hour, at least there were no guns."
"Meth heads, if they had one they would have sold it. The place didn't qualify as a dump, more like a septic tank."
Amaya, "Glad I did not have to see it, filth is most unpleasant."
Janah is tapping her IPad, "Story about a gruesome attack in Barstow, somebody cut off fingers and stole children."
"How horrible, who and why?"
"Cops think it might be a child prostitution issue. They have evidence of the couple's daughter being turned over to a known pedophile and money exchanged. The perv is under arrest, has an alibi for the time of the attack and the kids weren't with him. He may actually slide, they have video of the exchange, and of her being returned the next morning. There's no evidence of sexual activity primarily because there's no girl to examine. Some people are saying whoever did the parents ought to get a reward."
Amaya, "They will think the kids were abducted by child sellers."
Janah scrolls down, "That's another avenue they're pursuing, also possible the perv took them and has them stashed someplace," she looks up, "the DA has more evidence than the one video, we sent several, both kids. They're keeping that to themselves for now. Probably waiting to arrest people in the other videos, Surveillance got faces and license plates."
Su, "You had evidence that the parents were doing this, why not just give that to the police?"
"The kids get caught up in the revolving door foster system. Better, maybe, than where they were, but not better than a ranch. They get to stay together, nobody implants the idea they are traumatized victims, nor do they need to testify in court. We prefer our own illegal legal system. The ranches are nice, cows, chickens, horses are a big favorite. They go skiing, hiking, river rafting, learn to raise vegetables and herbs, plus online school. We pay for college or any other training they want. We put one through medical school, two others did law school, several went on to advanced degrees."
Su, "They don't all do that well, do they?"
Janah, "No, some leave when they are eighteen and we never hear from them. About half come back from time to time, others Skype or text the monks. As far as we know, none have gone to prison or turned into druggies, but we don't track them when they leave. They aren't a social science study."
Su, "Don't the authorities ask questions? Like where the kids came from, or why they are being raised at the ranch?"
"Sometimes, but their own systems are overwhelmed and resources are thin. Government only cares about bullying women about abortion, after the kid pops out into the world, they don't give them much thought. When the monks are asked, they say the kids are orphaned, which is true. The ranches are a legitimate service of the Shaolin Temple and don't take any local, state or federal money. The states are happy to have kids off their hands."
Su, "I knew the ranches existed when I was in the temple. But they weren't spoken about much, only the website with the requirements and a place to volunteer."
Janah, "We keep it low key. There's no benefit to the children to make them an example or the ranches models of how to handle abused kids. Other places don't have the money or talent to do it the way the Shaolin do."
Dinner's over, family wanders for a walk, the drive is lit now, others sit by the pool and digest. Sloane and Nikko run karts around the track for an hour.
Oceane whispers in my ear, I grin like the village idiot and follow her to her room. There, I slip down her little cotton shorts and take off her t-shirt. Our foreplay consists of her lying nude on the bed, bottom side up, ankles crossed, propped on her elbows. She's facing away from me, but can see me watching in her three way mirror. I know what she wants.
I pull off the only thing I'm wearing, short silk robe, stand at the foot of the bed while I finger-stim myself. I see her sly grin in the mirror. Oceane can be ditzy, but she loves displaying her svelte self, and she loves that I get off enjoying her svelte self.
After I groan my way to and through climax, she pulls her knees under her, she doesn't have to explain my next job either. I kneel on the bed, lean forward and tongue the target, use my fingers to tease the other target. When she's frenzied, she rolls over, I apply lips and tongue to her sensual softness. She's sooo ooohhhh, I take my sweet time on her sweet spot. Her mind vaporizes.
My head pops up, she's staring at the ceiling deep breathing, lips parted, tongue on her teeth. Success.
I lay my head on her tummy, feel soft hands stoke my head. One leg pulls up, goody, an opportunity to kiss silken skin.
"Get my toy, the one I use on you."
Yay! I strap her up, wet the business end in my mouth, then she's on top of me, screwing my brain to cappuccino foam. The mechanical device has the additional advantage of vibrating against her, with the intended delightful consequence. We go off at the same time. Sexual synchronicity.
Ahhhh, sated by the sylph, it is good to be me.
Oceane, "I am stars."
"At the least, a star. I think you levitated me."
"I like fucking you."
Strange hearing that from the esoteric Oceane, but her mind is butterflyesque, one is never quite sure which thing it will light on next.
"You do it well."
"Amaya likes me to fuck her the other way."
"She's into that sometimes."
"Our mix is good too."
"Our mix is very good, and if you feel the need to change the mix just let me know, I'm flexible."
She kisses me, I show her, I kiss her back.
"Sleep with me, I want you to wrap me up."
I see my duty and I do it.
Chapter Twenty Eight
Breakfast, pancakes, eggs, grits, stack of crisp bacon and ham slices with cherries.
Sloane, "Warm cherries on ham are great."
"We use pie filling, the low sugar kind. Same thing we use in apple-cherry crumble. There's enough sugar in the pancake syrups."
Chloe, "I'm a pancake junkie, another please."
Amaya, "That is three, if I eat more than one I balloon into Kristie Alley. She could fly in the Macy's parade if they could get her aloft. Vesnushki eats like a buffalo and is lighter than helium. What happened to the equality movement?"
Nikko, "A liberal fantasy. There is and can be no equality, that's not how life works."
Janah, "They could level the field better, the mega rich complaining about a minor bump in the tax rate. If taxes were fifty percent over a million a year, they wouldn't miss any four star meals or have to drive a Toyota."
Danika, "I should think it would be a source of pride for a company to pay good wages, for the country to provide a basic standard of living, free education all the way through college. Instead, they fight it tooth and nail."
Su, "A Shaolin monk doesn't understand greed?"
"I get that, they don't grasp how greed costs them in other ways, and I don't mean spiritual gratification. They spend money protecting themselves, spend money having people look after their precious assets, have to buy a boatload of insurance. Their lives are a few moments of fine food and luxury items and a lot of time in fear."
"We're filthy rich."
"Yes, but you pay employees high wages, give away a lot of money, charge below market rents and support four schools plus the ranches. Not to mention the ranches. I know that's a Shaolin project, but the funds came from you."
Nikko, "Daphne and Janah learned a good deal about generosity from the Shaolin. Their primary teacher was Susan. She built a huge tech consulting business by cooperation and sharing. She sent business she couldn't handle to what others called competitors. She didn't see it that way, she didn't create adversaries, she made friends. She gave away work to start ups, most of which never finished up, options she got for compensation were worthless. But a few did and went public, Susan made millions."
Danika, "When I came to the temple, there were stories about the girl who recreated the kitchen and turned meager Shaolin meals into delicacies. And the dingy dining hall into a showplace. I saw the result, our nutrition was excellent and delicious, the environment pristine. Monks were grateful, visiting monks were astonished. They would say we were spoiled until they came to understand that an excellent environment is part of excellent performance. They saw the work ethic, monks don't live a lavish lifestyle, it is Spartan. But that doesn't mean poor nutrition or filthy living conditions. If anything, our monks worked harder, it is more work to keep things clean and orderly than it is to be slovenly."
"It was selfish on my part, I couldn't have Janah eating cold rice and thin tea. She might have cut me off sexually."
Su, "Same Daphne as our temple days, won't let us take ourselves too seriously."
Dasha, "Everyone ees fed, go away someplace, Dahfoney and I need to clean up. Lunch today ees buffet, ready at noon, feenish at one. Tea ees four thirty. Now go."
Everyone shooed from the table, we collect plates and cups, rinse and in the two dishwashers. Dasha had pots and pans cleaned before breakfast was over. She's obsessive that way.
"What do you want to do today?"
"Sloane for Russian this morning. We haf to go to grocery, you will drive. Sloane will learn while we shop."
It's a plan. First we stop at the Liquor Barn, they sell 1.75 Russian Standard for twenty six bucks, much better than the supermarket at seventeen for the 750. Two cases of six will hold our vodka connoisseurs for a while.
Next to Safeway, we buy wine and other liquor here, they knock off ten percent for a minimum of six bottles in any combination. Also have additional thirty percent off sales a couple times a year, and still give the ten percent for six deal. Needless to say, those are thousand dollar shopping trips.
Then Fry’s, the girls baffle customers by discussing the merits of vegetables in Russian, while I push the cart. I don't mind except they play lame music, is everyone stuck at 1980 or earlier? Fortunately I can distract myself looking into Janah's, or Amaya's, or Nikko's mind while I surf the cart currents through the aisles. Janah is chatting up Society contacts, Amaya is writing, Nikko is watching Daria and Eloise doing electronic magic in the workshop. Nothing for Daphne on those channels.
Dasha’s satisfied, we check out to the tune of three hundred fifty bucks, three hundred at Liquor Barn, another three at Safeway, sheesh. Load the Escalade and return.
Janah comes to help haul bags, "You buy out the store?"
"Doesn't take much to run up the tab, we are feeding and watering eleven you may recall, thirteen counting Danika and Su. This is barely a week's worth and I'll still need to grocery before it's up."
Janah, "Eleven people at a hundred bucks a week each, that's five grand a month in food."
"It's not only food, liquor is expensive and there's the other stuff, paper towels, toilet paper, foil, cling wrap. We keep the wheels of commerce churning."
Janah, "Wheels don't churn, they turn."
Dasha, "You will put grocery away Dahfoney, ees time for making lunch," she reverts to self talk, "cold cut, Boar Head chipotle cheeken, roast beef sandwich, also salami, what ees Janah? maybe egg salad, boil egg, pickle relish, ohnyon, cheeps, enough."
Sloane helps with the groceries, then, "Going swimming," races up the stairs to change.
I look out to the pool, Oceane is gliding along, then she's out and sits at one of the tables, I see her drawing pad and pencils. Sloane streaks by and dives in. She's such joy, I have a mommy moment.
Janah, "She's growing again."
"Yes, but her feet and hands say not too much. Maybe she tops out at five eight, suppose it doesn't matter, she gets as tall as she gets. Chloe's almost six feet, hasn't hurt her any."
"The hormones are doing their job, she's pretty girly, does she talk to you about the operation?"
"She's going all the way if she doesn't change her mind, we have a few years. Kind of stupid, having to wait until she's eighteen, like some switch gets flipped at the number."
"She doesn't complain."
"No, she never complains about anything. She's like Chloe, always happy, always a smile, glad to be alive."
"We can make her eighteen anytime we want."
"I suppose, but it gets messy. Her transition doc knows how old she is and she has to sign off. I'd have to get a new doc now, they'd want to monitor her for at least a year first. It's not forever, and she has accepted the idea of waiting, so wait we will."
Janah, "You're getting sensible in your not old age."
"Even a non-bio mom is a mom. She has a great life, gets to do pretty much as she pleases, has a lifestyle most people would kill for. Enough already, time for lunch."