Chapter Forty One III
The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary;
he will come only on the day after his arrival;
he will come not on the last day, but on the very last.
Franz Kafka, Parables and Paradoxes
Janah and Nikko sit in Dr. E’s study, Janah reads the files, memorizes names, places, the exact layout of the farm and nearby roads. I get it when Janah reads it, Nikko follows over her shoulder. Exit and extraction have to be more elaborate, lot of people to pull out. Two helicopters, one for the children and any adult women who want to leave. The second for us. The men stay, how Nikko and I keep them under wraps is up to us, and them.
The winter has been moderate, leftover light snow cover, no late winter storms forecast. We plan to get to the farm Thursday. Janah decided to drive, if the weather holds, it’s three days without rushing. A standard full size rental to Chicago, hit a mall skirting town, swap the car for another and drive it to South Dakota where we swap again for a panel truck with 4 wheel drive, snow tires and two dirt bikes inside. Swaps-R-Us.
There is food, water, sleeping bags, camping gear, an extra car battery and flashlights. It’s unlikely we’ll need much of it, the idea is to get within a mile of the farm, leave the truck and take the bikes. Janah thinks we can cut through a section of woods that, from the satellite images, is negotiable on the bikes. The premise is simple. Two girls ride up to the farmhouse like they are out playing in the hills and get lost. The girls are Janah and Nikko.
Janah concocted a story about riding the prior day, spending the night in their van, then going for a ride, get turned around, spot the farm and came for directions. The story wouldn’t hold up under even simple questioning, the road down from the farm isn’t hidden or anything. That’s as far as we took it, if the men were suspicious, it wouldn’t matter, we’re going to get serious quickly. We need the men out of the house, in the open. The compound, such as it is, is relatively easy to cover, three buildings, one a barn, the other two where the families live, small livestock pens, chicken coops. Two men, the two sons and their respective wives are in the bigger house. The other two and their wives, in the smaller. Neither house is small, twenty plus people give or take, several bedrooms, lots of kitchen.
Riding up the hills, I mental Janah, Drop me here so I can get a vantage point, scope out the compound and get a feel for target location. When I’m in place, I’ll let you know.
I climb the gentle slope the last half mile, see two dogs roaming the grounds. Rottweilers.
The dogs stay together. That’s lucky. Guys are probably too lazy to teach them to patrol alone. I can take them out easily enough.
Janah, When we ride up, soon as the noise starts or the dogs react, get them out of the picture.
What if the men notice?
We’ll put them out, too. The bikes are noisy. The dogs will perk up, there will be a few moments before they get the sound coordinates in these hills. You have to take them then, or before.
Dogs will be down. I can cover the second house, you two get busy quickly.
The noisy bikes do their job, men come outside, I’m missing one of the younger sons. Two are in the yard of the big house, shotguns at the ready, one son on the porch, the other two men come to the porch of the smaller house, one holding a small caliber rifle. Janah and Nikko ride up, appropriately covered with dust, helmeted, visors, bike riding attire to the hilt. Hard to tell they are women at first, Nikko’s hair tucked into the jacket, Janah’s in a small ponytail mostly under the helmet.
I dispatch both dogs before they make it around from the back of the house, the small pop of the air gun lost in the noise of barking and bikes. Powerful tranquilizer darts drop the dogs in a few steps. The men are confused by two helmeted riders, missing dogs haven’t registered. Janah’s story isn’t necessary, there’s no time to chat.
I'm darting the two on the porch of the smaller house.
The thump of dropping bodies cause the other men turn to the noise, bad idea, Nikko sticks a foot in the groin of the one nearest her, swipes his forehead with a shuriken. Blood in his eyes will distract him until the sedative painted on the shuriken does it’s thing. Janah tasers the guy nearest her. Nikko zings a shuriken into the chest of the boy on the porch, then a second one just as he collects himself enough to yell, “Hey!” That leaves one son unaccounted for, most likely in the big house or the barn. Nikko leaps to the porch and clocks the dazed teen, he’s out.
I’ll check the barn, then see what’s happening in the small house.
Janah circles around the side nearest the woods, away from the smaller house. There is an exterior set of cellar doors. She sticks the shaft of a shovel through the handles, figures they’re trained to go to the cellar if trouble starts. Nikko goes through the rooms, nobody there. She waves in Janah and they camp out in the front room. A door in the kitchen has to be the interior door to the cellar.
I find the barn empty, in the smaller house the same story, closed cellar door, I’ve got the exterior cellar door of this house sealed, what now?
Janah, Can you block the interior door as well?
I jam a chair under the door handle, not perfect, good enough for a temp job. It isn’t like the people inside are trying to get out. I join my companions in the big house.
“I can hear people in the cellar next door, all female and scared. They won’t try and leave, we can deal with the crowd in here first.”
I ease up to the cellar door. With one male unaccounted for, it’s logical that he’s down there, likely armed. I tap on the door and step aside. Two rifle bullets punch through the door.
“That answers that.”
Janah, “Smoke them out.”
Nikko and I go outside, she uses the shovel to crack open the exterior door, I drop two tear gas canisters. As she shuts it, the wood is pierced by a rifle shot.
Nikko, “Someone’s getting testy.”
“Really. The nerve. It’s just a little tear gas.”
“If we get the women and children out, can I go in and bring him out myself?”
“If you go in, he won’t be coming out.”
She shrugs as if to say, ‘What’s the problem?’
Back inside, Janah is explaining through the door that they won’t be hurt, just to exit the cellar quietly, come out one at a time, hands on their heads, leave the guns.
“Send the children out first, two at a time, then the women. The sooner you get it done, the sooner you can breathe real air.”
Two girls appear, followed by the others in twos. When the adult women start slowly coming out, coughing and disoriented, I grab them, Nikko pulls their wrists behind their backs, slips on nylon ties and secures them. When they are seated, she slips ties around their ankles, they aren’t going anywhere.
The teenage boy stumbles out coughing and gagging, his fight is over. Nikko ties his wrists together with picture wire. When he starts to complain, she sticks a ball of yarn in his mouth and tapes it shut. Then she ties his ankles, tight.
There are mostly young girls of varied nationalities, scared and crying. All white, not an equal opportunity abuse family. I herd them to a separate room. Janah talks softly, calms them down while Nikko goes outside to tie up the still unconscious men and make sure the dogs are out of it. As insurance, she ties them with a stretch of nylon rope she got from the bike, one end to the porch rail, the other through their collars. The men are wired at the wrist and ankles, then duct taped a half dozen loops over the wire. Janah stays with the first group. I put the grown women in one bedroom, girls who appear to be under 16 in the other. I wash their faces with wet cloths and sit them around on the floor. Janah will talk with them while Nikko and I deal with the other house.
I speak to the door, “Ladies, the men are all restrained, the other cellar is empty, the women are safe. We used tear gas to clear them out. I know there’s only women and girls down there, I don’t want to gas you. Come out quietly, one at a time and we can skip the dramatics.”
A voice in the cellar calls out, “Wha’ chew you want? We ain’t done nothing. Ain’t no money here, look around. What’s this about?”
“We aren’t going to hurt you. We also aren’t leaving until these kids you’ve stolen are safe.”
A voice wails, “These girls adopted, all legal, nobody here stole nothin’.”
“Can the bullshit. Get up here one at a time nice and quiet, or come up choking and gagging. What’s it going to be?”
There is some discussion, I wait, “Ladies, think about it. If the men weren’t tied up, where are they?”
The voice again, “We heard shots.”
“Yes, the boy in the cellar took a crack at us, so we gassed them. Nobody’s dead, nobody’s going to die, we aren’t here for that.”
The voice, “We can wait a long time, got everything we need.”
“Hope you got gas masks.”
A minute later the door cracks open, one child comes out blinking, I mental Janah. Nikko takes the child to the other house and returns. It goes this way until the cellar is empty. Now everyone is at the big house, or outside, unconscious and immobilized. Three men in the front yard, two on the porch of the second house, one teen male in the house.
A copter is descending, the aircraft ID number taped over, it is unidentifiable. The kids are put on board, there are a dozen, look to be six to sixteen. One adult woman wants to go. Three women want to stay. They amuse themselves by glaring at us.
The men begin to stir, I pop ammonia caps under noses of the two by the small house, cut one’s feet loose and walk him over to the front yard of the big house. I re-tie him and get the second. As soon as his feet are free he gets a case of the stupids and tries to kick me. I catch his foot and sweep the other out from under him, put him down hard on the wooden porch. He still doesn’t quite get it and tries to roll to his side and kick me again. I crush his ankle under the hard heel of my boot, then step alongside him, reach down and pull him up by the hair. I break his nose with the heel of my hand.
“Shall I continue ?”
He looks into my eyes, sees only his reflection in the dark glasses. I press my thumb into his skull just behind his ear, holding his head against the floor of the porch until he whines, then screams.
“Here’s your choice, cowboy. Get up and walk or I break more bones and leave you here.”
He gets to his knees, then up. This time he goes quietly, hop limping on his badly damaged leg, blood runs over his lips from his smashed nose.
Soon we have a little pervert party going. The two remaining women, one son and the four men all standing, precariously, they still have their ankles wired together. Staring, scared, angry, stupid. I am patiently explaining their future.
“Guys, your child playmate days are over.”
One of the men next to Nikko starts in, “This is private prop….”
Nikko back fists him, her knuckles crush the bridge of his nose, blood drips, there is a serious dent.
He screeches, her elbow cracks a rib, “Shut up.”
He falls backwards on the dirt, lays there groaning. He wisely decides to stay put.
I continue, “We are with the Federal Children’s Defense League, The FCDL, a super secret division of the Department of Homeland Security. We don’t exist. Either that, or we’re pod people from Pluto, pissed off because we’ve been downgraded from an actual planet to a chunk of space debris. Take your pick.”
The oldest man, “You can’t come in here and...”
I poke him in the throat, “Chill, pops. See, you’re trying to tell us we can’t do something we already did! We did come in here and… duh!”
I scan at the others, “Geez, are you all this stupid? If the rest of you take orders from General Pawpaw, you might want to defect.”
The younger adult man says, “I get my hands on your ass missy, you’ll be my next wife and learn to like it, that skinny chick too.” He is tall and lanky, about 6’2” or so, with big farmer hard hands.
I look at Nikko, her lip curls up.
“Tell you what, Hitler, I’ll cut you loose. If you whip the skinny chick’s ass, you’re all free and the three of us will do whatever you’d like. Want to have a go?”
“Damn straight, bitch.”
My knife swipes, his hands and feet are free before he’s aware of it. He kind of looks down at his feet and separates his hands like he’s in a dream.
Then he focuses, “Come on honey, time to pay.”
Then he stops. Nikko has taken her helmet off. Her hair is bright red. Her face and neck are geisha white, except for the red stripes around her eyes. She has a knotted black and white samurai kerchief over her head. She looks like oriental death. She sticks out her hand and gives him the ‘come here’ sign with her index finger.
He rushes her, she doesn’t move until he’s in arm’s reach, steps aside, knee engages gut, he folds in half, takes a slow breath. She intentionally gave him a half shot, stands silent, hands at her sides. He straightens up, puts up his fists, comes forward and, to his credit, shoots a jab at her chest. Usually they go for some big roundhouse knockout punch a nearsighted accountant could dodge. She slaps his hand to the side, then taps his nose with the knuckles of her folded fingers, just enough to sting.
He stupidly misunderstands her intention, “Gotta hit harder than that. You’re too skinny honey. Ain’t no power.”
Nikko cocks her head, silent. He tries another right jab, she grabs his wrist with her right hand and pops the heel of her left hand behind his elbow. She could have dislocated it, but she’s still having fun. He pokes a left at her jaw, she leans back, the punch harmlessly shoots past her head. She kicks his shin with the steel toe. He howls and lifts his foot, big mistake. She kicks his other shin, harder, steps back.
He loses it, anger and self control don’t hang out together; he yells an obscenity and charges, stupidly, head down. The toe of her boot kisses his still open mouth, it costs him a few front teeth. He flips backwards into darkness.
I look at a non-existent watch, “Geez, Hitler couldn’t last a whole round. Anymore brown shirts want to go for the gold? Last call, master race.”
There are no takers, I say mostly to myself, “Maybe you’re not all as stupid as you look.”
While Janah puts Nikko’s new friend together with towels and ice, I cover the rules, “Here’s the drill, goose stepping pervs. You can stay here and live peacefully, you can get as many wives as you can talk into coming up here. They have to come freely and they have to be over twenty one, no more kids. You’ve lost the right to eighteen, don’t even think about it. Even for the two boys. We knew you were here, we know who you are, we know what you’re doing. Move, we follow, bring more children, you see us again. If we have to come back, it will not be with all the compassion we’re showing now. The skinny chick is going to do show and tell.”
A straight razor appears in her hand, she flip it open and slices a line down the front of Paw Paw’s pants. She pulls his cock out and runs the blade down the length of the shaft just deep enough to leave a line of blood, he screams and faints.
“Cripes, what a puss. You dimwits need to elect a new fuehrer. Okay, back to the deal, any women up here get pregnant, we come for you. Use birth control or jerk off in a sock. There will be no more children, natural, adopted or virgin births, no matter where you go, no matter how long you live. Any accidental children, I guarantee you won’t see their first birthday.”
Nikko and I take an earlobe from each man, feed them to the now awake dogs, growling at the end of their ropes. The scent of blood has them in a frenzy, they drip foamy saliva, snarling viciously.
“I’m going to leave the dogs tied, as a gesture of good will. I think they’ve got the taste and what with you shitheels bleeding, it will be a massacre. If we have to come back, if I get a bad feeling about you crackers, we’ll let the dogs have their way. If the dogs aren’t here, then I fed you to her, my thumb points to Nikko. It’ll be less painful with the dogs.”
One of the women cries, “You can’t just leave us here tied, with them dogs!”
“The dogs are tied too, I suggest you chew through your ropes before the dogs chew through theirs. I’m pulling for the dogs. You should have fed them better. If they get loose, your kibbles will be bits.”
With that, Janah calls for the second copter, we blindfold everyone before it shows, and get them face down on the porch. Janah scratches them with a small dose of sedative, everyone is dreaming of happier days as the chopper appears over the hill to the north. Nikko sedates the dogs. While we don’t actually want the dogs loose on the targets, it doesn’t hurt to make them think I am Satan herself. The pervs aren’t smart, they aren’t brave either. They’d find something else to amuse besides young girls. Nikko and I had demonstrated the undeniable undesirable consequences of misdirected desire.
Bikes loaded on the chopper, then us, by late afternoon in a rental car cruising south. Someone removes the truck. We drive long and late, stop at a Hampton Inn off the Interstate, the usual rules, prepaid room, we go in separately. Early the next morning, on the road, one car change, one more motel, and back in Manhattan the next day. I call the moms and tell them all is well, we’d be by in a day or so.
Susan, “I’ll pass the message along, Janah will call Kara anyway I’m sure.”
“She’s on the other phone with her now. Is C-mom in? I want to say hi after you talk to Nikko.”
Sis is glad to hear her calm reassurances, that we had fun at the retreat and we learned a lot. No mention of what retreat or what we learned, specifically, how to handle a dirt bike in the woods and how teeth sound breaking.
Nikko, “I’ll see you in the morning,” she hands the phone to me.
Chris, “Hey baby, everyone have fun at the retreat?”
“Mom, it was so cool, perfectly relaxing, not a single ache or pain; still, it’s good to be home.”
Chris, “Come over when you can, I want some hugs and kisses from my daughters, I think I speak for all the moms.”
Check in complete, Nikko and Janah put things away, I hit the deli and return with a load of vegetable soup, bean salad, macaroni and cheese, a half dozen brownies and vanilla bean ice cream. Janah is hungry, and it’s already after seven.
Janah, “Yum, that place has the best quickie stuff. The soup is good, not de Seelk’s, but good, I’m helpless around creamy macaroni and cheese,” she proceeds to prove just how helpless.
Lacy pops in long enough to eat, chats about school, knows not to mention that we had been away, or ask where or why. She sees everyone in one piece, not so much as a bruise, good enough. Shell call Sis when she gets home and give her a physical report, then flirt for a while.
By nine we’re piled on the sofa watching a nature program and by ten, arranging ourselves in the big bed, asleep before the half hour.
Chapter Forty Two III
It takes extraordinary wisdom and self control to
accept that many things have a logic we do not understand
that is smarter than our own.
Nassim Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes
The next weeks are busy, not deranged busy, Janah prefers semi organized chaos. Daily routine was one thing when we were in the temple, now we have more of a chance to let life happen. Regardless, I have piles going on, taekwondo at Chapmans, alternating days with Sis or Chris. I help at the dojang, go early so Janah can work out while Nikko and I pummel each other. Every ten days or so, we go to Kim's to train on the Dim Mak dummies and to spar with his black belts. We need to face opponents both bigger than us and with different styles. Fighting each other is fun, but we don't want to get in a groove.
Friday mornings are for kendo. Nikko was born to the sword, I stay with her, barely. My natural speed and reflexes don’t completely offset her innate sense of the weapon. Hanshi is pressed to contain his delight and maintain his stoic demeanor as he watches the katana flawlessly obey her.
The days rocket by. We stay home on Sunday, a family brunch once a month but that’s it. Thursdays are for nothing except massage and quiet intimacy. Janah monitors us daily, any signs of abnormal fatigue or stress and everything shuts down, cancel nonessentials, meditate, or we liquefy each other with lovemaking.
Nikko becomes another favorite at The Village Diner. While I visit friends and Janah talks to someone at the booth in the back corner, her diner listening center, Mini would slide into a booth across from Nikko. It’s a strange sight. Mini talks, she says nothing, still as a bronze Buddha. Mini found himself telling her stories about things he’d done. He hasn’t always been a hulking short order cook. He’d always been hulking, just not in front of a grill. Mini’s former career was collections and enforcement. Not the kind of collections where some phone dweeb harasses people who hadn’t paid their credit card bill. He’d been in collections for guys named Fat Angelo, and The Shark. Enforcement often involved a severely damaged body part. He did time. Not hard time, Mini is hard time. Nobody gave him anything but respect in prison after the first couple of guys tried to get him to affiliate…they were found two weeks apart, both crumpled masses of broken stuff, MIAs, mangled in action. Prisoners and guards said they had no idea how such a thing could have happened.
Mini, however, didn’t see rotating in and out of a cell as a way to live. After the initial quake, he did his time quietly, he read a lot. He read a lot of pulp, then he got bored and read a lot of Buddhism. He isn’t a Buddhist. He isn’t anything. He didn’t try and explain why, or study himself, or go to a higher plane. He did abandon the lower plane. He got a job with Chuck. He still chops slices and breaks things, vegetables, pastrami, eggs, not people. Eventually, he took over the kitchen, Chuck cut him in on the place and Mini found his version of nirvana.
For reasons he couldn’t explain and didn’t bother to figure out, he told the long version of this to Nikko over a few months. He told her about the guys he’d broken, the guys he’d worked for, the guys he liked, the guys he didn’t. He didn’t tell her to brag, he didn’t apologize. He wasn’t looking for empathy or sympathy. He felt no need to confess, or be forgiven, or be admired. There was no reason, he just told her.
The closest thing to a reason, wasn’t even a reason. He told her because she never asked, she never reacted, she didn’t smile, she didn’t frown, she never so much as raised an eyebrow. He talked for ten or fifteen minutes a session. When he was done, he got up and went back to his kitchen. He never said thanks for listening, or see you later or what do you think? Nikko never said anything. He could have been spilling his life to the salt shaker. We left them alone until Mini was back in his kitchen. We didn’t ask, Nikko didn’t tell. How do I know then? It’s a novel, go with it.
When the weather is really good we skip the diner and eat the cart vendor’s stuff, sitting on benches chewing the fat with the Jamaicans. I would fetch just one more veggie sandwich, or loaded hot dog for Nikko. She never eats much, she would eat anything I brought from the cart. I’m glad to see her calorie up. She eats my down home cooking and the cart. The rest of the time she’d nibble off one of our plates, drink tea, and then more tea. I wonder if Nikko and Janah are in a secret tea drinking cabal.
I think she functions so well because she has a way of not burning a single extra calorie. When we practice, she works hard, but her moves are efficient, economical. When we’re just hanging out, Nikko is beyond efficient, never a wasted motion, she doesn’t lift an eyebrow that doesn’t require lifting. She doesn’t walk, she glides, as if the earth moves underneath her opposite the direction she is headed.
Weekly to Chinatown, Janah does her thing early with Mrs. Fong, then to the herb shop for the bulk of the day. I work in Fong’s kitchen, Nikko stays with Janah, learning the herbal remedies and helping with the children and old ones. She takes Nikko to the temple to visit Master Sung, the Qi Masters, the herbalist, Black and the boys. She watches practice or walks with Janah through the herb garden, then to Tan’s.
Another layer of Nishiko is revealed to Janah’s surprise. Tan takes to Nikko as if he’s known her all her life, like a loving grandfather, which tickles me to no end.
She has Tan’s interest, a Japanese girl at that? That’s a total trip.
Janah, “’m at a loss to explain it. Tan has his ways of seeing, he either connects with someone or it’s as if they aren’t there at all. I walked behind the bamboo wall, and before we were in the line of sight to his door, he was bellowing, ‘Master J, bring the Japanese in. We have no prejudices here.’
Janah continues, Nikko was Nikko, she did bow deeply and wait to be invited to sit. Old man knew all about us, called her the second guardian, and the student of Master Sylk, his words. She bowed again and told him she was humbled to be accepted as Master Sylk’s student.
Janah laughs, Tan said to spare him the humility, she was submissive like a tigress, she had her cubs to look after and she would do so with her life. Nikko bowed again. He was on to her, who knows how? Then he said not to worry, he wouldn’t expose her devious Japanese nature, nor her skill with the sword. Another mystery. She countered that the Zen masters had learned deviousness from their Ch’an instructors. That tickled Tan to no end. He looked her in the eye and told her even old men in a monastery were still susceptible to geisha cunning. She lowered her head demurely, admitting nothing. It was incredible theater, east meets east.
That’s our girl. Sly thing isn’t she? Learned from the best, her own mom.
Chapter Forty Three III
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.
We’re in Chris’ dojang when Janah’s cell rings, it’s Mrs. Epstein, “Hi Janah, how are you and the girls?”
Janah, “Hi Mrs. E, everyone is fine. As a matter of fact we’re at the dojang, Nikko is working Daphne over while I stretch comfortably on the floor.”
“Looking adorable no doubt. That Daphne, does she ever get enough practice? She must be wearing poor Nikko out by now.”
“Daphne’s found her equal in insane work ethic. Nikko is a perfect match for her, Japanese Eveready bunny.”
There’s a loud thump near the phone.
“What’s going on, are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Nikko just threw Daphne across the mat and she landed right next to me. She says to tell you hi.”
Mrs. Epstein, “My goodness. I hope it sounded worse than it was. So you have to put them back together after they’ve finished?”
“I get to massage and care for two gorgeous girls, and I get a superb martial arts demonstration every week.”
“And they may need their skills. If you can come by here tonight, we have something.”
“Is seven good, or later?”
“See you at seven.”
Finished pulverizing each other, Nikko and I sit on the floor trying to breathe. We are soaked. Janah brings fresh bottles of water. It’s nearing two thirty, we hit the shower and dress. When we get to the apartment, the cell rings again.
Lacy, “Up for company?”
Janah, “You can watch me massage these two into some sort of less beat up condition. We have to go to mid-town for seven. We’ll be here until six-thirty. We’re outside our door now, it’ll be open.”
A few minutes later Nikko’s on the massage table, I brush out her hair while Janah works on the lean, strained body. While Janah works, Lacy brushes my hair.
Lacy, “We’re like gorillas, grooming each other all the time.”
“Hair brushing is personal, allows closer than conversation distance, more intimate. It’s a girl thing, men would get freaky doing it. You don’t have hair long enough to brush, feel left out?’
Lacy, “Hardly, between Janah’s massages, Susan’s manicures, the attentions of Chris, any more love and I’m going to quit my day job.”
Lacy makes tea, I cut raw vegetables, put out those with hummus. Janah finishes Nikko, takes a break and eats, conversation light and minimal. Now for me. On the massage table, I’m soon zoned out, almost asleep. Lacy is on the sofa reading Emily Dickinson to us, her voice clear, softly cradling us with the warmth of her voice against the noir of Dickinson’s poetry. Nikko is lying on the couch dreamily relaxing. Janah finishes, me in sleepy twilight on the table. Lacy reads for a while longer, then everyone is simply quiet. It’s summer, daylight savings time. In the apartment, the light is soft, background jazz low.
It’s six, we need to freshen up to go to the Epsteins'. Lacy kisses everyone and goes to her place.
Janah giggles as we get on the elevator, “I’m going to practice looking tall. When you guys have on those monster clogs, I’m like a bunny in a giraffe farm.”
“You’re hardly that small. Now if it was Lacy...”
Nikko, “Have to put one of those sticks with a tennis ball on her head so we could spot her.”
Janah smiles at the thought of tiny Lacy between us, a tennis ball on an antennae sticking up from her head, swaying back and forth as she walks.
“Besides, it's easier to watch for problems if you aren’t in the line of sight.”
I agree. It is almost too subtle to notice, the way we walk just a little out of synch. Nikko and I surround Janah, one of us is always a half step ahead while the other is a half step behind. She holds her spot between us, hopefully a useless precaution. Still, one practices to make it habitual. Between my vast network of friends, the Met event, Janah’s familiar face in Chinatown, all the people who know her from Chapmans, Kim’s and Chris’ schools, she is easily recognized, and often discussed. Rumors of her skills, her intelligence, her memory, her gentle healing temperament, have drifted who knows where. The angelic white haired girl is a bit of a mini phenomenon in our area of Manhattan. So far, no problems. Nikko and I aren’t paranoid, Janah isn’t John Lennon. Still, with the potential for anything, from a complete nut case to kidnappers, it would be stupid to ignore given her expanding universe.
Tonight, the trip is uneventful, we’d taken the subway, got to Mrs. Epstein’s building at two minutes to seven and are having tea by five after. She has a light supper arranged. Janah reads the file on Dr. Epstein’s desktop.
The target is a wealthy oriental in the San Francisco area, not the city itself, Sausalito, an upscale community on the east side of the Golden Gate. His wealth comes from a lucrative import business, which includes importing people, illegally. It isn’t a prostitution or sex slave thing, instead, rather male illegals from China, men the home country is delighted to export. The service Lin Chong provides is simple. He gets Chinese criminals into the US with Chinese authorities pretending not to notice their absence from prison, then finds these charmers employment with various gangs, well organized gangs, here in the states. Essentially he runs an overseas job placement agency for underemployed Chinese sociopaths, sort of a guest criminal program. He even takes orders for specialists, murderers, chemists for efficient drug production, kidnappers, extortionists, collection agents for loan sharks. He has a sub-specialty in hackers who gleefully spend eighteen hours a day surfing for access to bank, brokerage, credit card or insurance accounts. He charges a finder’s fee and has several layers of insulation between him and the action.
Lin Chong has a legitimate import business, a donor to both political parties, a wife and children. If not a pillar of the community, at least a post. He is also well protected. He isn’t a womanizer, no mini skirted young girl is going to distract him like we pulled off with Demetrius. His family, from the available research, has zero idea about honorable father’s extracurricular employment activities. The Society, for what it is, a private vigilante group, has a moral code, ‘guidelines’ is more accurate. The target or targets, like the Montana men, were to be refocused, given a fresh perspective. Bystanders, if part of the target’s entourage, suffer the consequences if they interfere. Family uninvolved with the activities of the target are to be left alone. Family non-involvement doesn’t include fallout if the target gets busted or exposed as a result of the Society’s activities. It means we don’t physically use uninvolved family members in refocusing. The Society can’t fix every injustice in the world, it can’t fix most of them. Sometimes it can’t fix even obvious ones. They don’t agonize about it; they do what is doable.
Nikko and I sit quietly while Janah flashes through the documents. Lin Chong keeps his criminal activities and family apart, he has an office, he conducts no business at home. We have to get to the target at his office or a neutral site.
Janah, “I think it would be best to go to the area and follow this guy around for a while. Identification did its usual stellar work, the photos, the home site, the office, his habits are well documented. I want to watch him for a couple of days and decide whether to get him away from or at the office. His home is off limits and there are bodyguards involved, with weapons. We need to neutralize them, get our guy and refocus him. This one will need to be convinced no amount of additional security will protect him. I need to think about how to incriminate him to the point he gives up the criminal importation business. We may want to do more work to verify the chain of command. Do you know how the Society got the goods on him? If we know, why don’t the authorities know he’s behind the gangster smuggling business?”
Dr. Epstein, “We found out accidentally. In the course of a conversation with one of our Social Skills teams, a target bragged about hiring a hit from the Bay area. How there were men available who spoke little English, had experience and would do the job with no questions asked. We sent in one of our people to chase down the story. He was put in touch with low level contacts. He told them he wanted someone dead, they said it was possible. He said he’d think it over. Another Surveillance team followed those contacts until their contacts showed. This case has taken a year to put together. With constant surveillance, listening devices, phone taps, we have pieced together the chain of command. Not every link leads to a conversation with Chong. There is one guy he talks to from China. We checked him out. He lists as a low level nobody, I doubt it. We don’t have Surveillance in China, who that one deals with up or down the food chain is unknown. Lin Chong talks to three others, they don’t appear to know each other, just him. They deal downstream, the ones who farm out the illegals to the actual gangs. The gangs have no idea who is ultimately responsible for delivering the bodies, they don’t care. The imports do what they’re told and say nothing. Getting paid in healthy amounts of cash, women, cars and decent apartments is heaven compared to Chinese prisons.”
Nikko, “Is there a difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?”
Dr. Epstein, “Good question. Mostly no. Both are devoid of conscience, want what they want, with zero concern for who gets hurt. Both are listed in the DSM IV as antisocial personality disorder. My own take is that a sociopath has somewhat better personal control in everyday life. He can mimic caring, fake ordinary social behavior. Consequently, it’s harder to spot them. Psychopaths have less self control in the sense that they don’t have the patience of a sociopath. If they are highly intelligent, they can be extraordinarily manipulative. But they won’t let anyone stand in the way of what they want. A psychopath will slit your throat and take what he wants. A sociopath might continue to try and talk you into giving it to them first, then slit your throat. My criteria are mine, there were so many interpretations, the shrinks gave up and call it all antisocial personality disorder.”
Nikko, “Do the Chinese have an unlimited supply? How many sociopaths can there be in China?”
Janah, “There are over billion people in China. It’s estimated that one percent of the population in any given country demonstrate psychopathic behavior, and up to four percent have some level of sociopathic personality. Almost all the people we refocus are one or the other. That means that China has over ten million psychopaths and up to fifty million people who have some fairly intense level of sociopathic behavior. Let’s be generous and forget the female population, cut it off at five million really bad guys and twenty million hugely aggravating guys. Since most of them are men, that number is probably low.”
“So supply is truly unlimited.”
“Yes, therefore cheap to hire, particularly when they are the worst of the worst. Unless you simply execute them, they cause trouble even in jail. It’s estimated that twenty five percent of U.S. prison inmates are sociopathic. The US has over two million incarcerated, so there are half a million sociopaths in jail, plus the many more who aren’t. If we cut the US population in half, to one hundred fifty million, then four percent equals six million sociopaths.”
“Nikko will be old lady and still too many assholes.”
“Call it job security.”
Janah, “Our vaunted US democracy has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We beat our breasts about human rights and we put more people in prison than any nation on earth. On a percentage of population basis, China puts far fewer of its people in prison that the US does. On the other hand, hard core sociopaths aren’t going to get rehabbed, they aren’t going to turn their lives around. Even with the number of people we imprison, there are huge numbers of antisocial assholes walking around free.”
I ask Dr. Epstein, “So what about these imports? Don’t they get busted, screw up?”
Dr. Epstein, “It’s what keeps Chong in business. These guys fall sooner or later. They get deported, killed, or sent to prison and Chong collects his fees for the new crop. It’s perfect for him, a high turnover commodity. He’s in constant demand to supply new psychos. In a few years, China might unload a substantial portion of its more vicious criminal element simply by exporting them to the US or elsewhere.”
Janah, “Interesting international relations policy. The US government just asleep, or what?”
Dr. Epstein, “We presume the Chinese pretend ignorance, make the odd arrest. The US wants them to buy our debt and open their country up to their vast markets, so we accept their unresponsiveness. The Cubans sent us their criminals by the boatload, as have some of the South Americans. Most illegals want work, a small percentage want to rob, kill or extort. What are a few hundred extra Chinese? Some people in our government perversely see the inevitable arrests as more positive press for their efforts, and more money for their agencies. It’s a shell game of bureaucratic crap.”
Janah, “My God. Is anybody, anywhere, simply on the level?”
Dr. Epstein, “The only accurate answer is too depressing to think about.”
“Geez, all right. Let me think it over. Not whether we’ll do it, we’ll do it, just how to go about it. I need to get out there and see the layout. So far, everything has been small towns or out of the way joints. We had a measure of either seclusion or a small audience. I need to let the girls see the scene, the patterns of the bodyguards.”
She shuts down the site, the screen goes blank, “I need to find a place to corner him and a clean way out. We’ll fly to Salt Lake or Seattle and drive from there, I’ll work it out with Transportation.”
We enjoy the mini buffet, make small talk and leave before nine thirty.
At the dining room table at our place we chew on possibilities, “We can knock out the guards easily enough if we can find them in a quiet spot. The way I see it, we catch them en route, getting into or out of a car, or take him at his office. Home is out. He’s not really too paranoid, nothing’s happened to him in all this time. He’s been in business, the criminal import business, what, four, five years? “
Janah, “At least, and much longer in the import of legitimate goods. I think you’re right, he is likely lax about his own security. Bodyguards sound sexy, I’m guessing they’re a pain for a long stretch.”
Nikko, “Janah’s right. I did that work before Chapmans. Clients either got chummy with the guard, or got tired of having someone hanging on their back every time they went to the restroom. If he’s had the same guys all along, it’s likely the relationship is more personal, and more relaxed. Bodyguards with no action and a standard daily routine can get lazy, which is why we preferred to rotate them.”
Janah, “We’ll take a few days to follow them around. Something will be obvious. The bodyguard thing in my case is by intimates, I want my bodyguards around every minute. Unless Chong has a gay thing happening with his guards, maybe he’s a little tired of the whole double shadow thing. We’ll see if they give him any breathing room.”
“I’d like this better if Surveillance sent more photos and we have a better idea going in. I don’t mind the adventure, except we weren’t dealing with pros on prior assignments. Even if they’re buddies, he didn’t find these guys off the streets. He’s in a dangerous business, he imports crazies for Christ’s sake.”
“What if we’re not guessing right? What if the guards change regularly, what if they practice like Daphne? It will be more fun to outwit professionals, to do that it makes sense to have as many details as possible.”
“We’ll head to San Francisco next weekend. That’ll give Surveillance seven more days to check him out.”
“Can Surveillance send us reports every day?”
Nikko, “I’d like to see more of these guards as soon as possible, in motion, not just stills.”
She wants to study them, see if they handle themselves like pros or just stand around with bad attitudes. Over the next few days, more photos come in, taken from a distance, then some terrific and discouraging videos. The guards stay with Chong from the time he leaves the house until he gets home. The house might not qualify as a fortress, still, it’s surrounded by thick high walls and formidable gates, well lighted at night. Even if the family wasn’t a consideration, doing him there is out of the question.
Unfortunately, the video reveals that the guards are neither sloppy nor casual. Despite no action, they are vigilant and on top of their game. They have radio monitors, earpieces and weapons. They didn’t stare at cute girls or get lost in thought.
Nikko, “If these guys stay in shape, they could be a handful. Surveillance did well, they knew what I was looking for, how the guys positioned themselves, what they looked at when the client was vulnerable, how one covered for the other. They know what they’re doing.”
Janah, “So do we want this job? Is it too dangerous? I’ll be happy to tell them we pass."
"I said they were good. They aren’t as good as we are. Besides, we have a huge advantage, we’re women.”
Janah smiles, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“Let’s take out the trash.”
Chapter Forty Four III
Technology is a tool.
You can build a house with a hammer, or you can destroy one.
There will be unintended consequences either way.
The Society developed a neat system to handle travel identification. We simply take digital photos of ourselves in disguise, upload them to a website, select a state, enter our traveling name, the photo, and out pops a valid driver’s license, hologram and all. No DMV, no birth certificate, no tests. I love technology.
The flight to Seattle is uneventful, we travel together under fake names, not much disguised, colored Janah’s hair, the pure white rather too remarkable. In Sausalito, we would be three of a zillion residents and tourists wandering the bay during the delightful summer days.
We’re at the Inn Above Tide, penthouse suite, great spot for a mere eleven hundred a night. Settled in, we go to work.
We spot our man going to his office shortly after nine, two guards surrounding him. One big guy, must have run six-four and two-fifty, not Chinese. The other isn’t small, just smaller, six feet maybe one-eighty, Chinese. There’s a night shift at the house, and a driver for the kids and mom, all Chinese. The Not Chinese guard must feel like a Grizzly in a pack of Pandas.
The building is commercial standard, office doors open directly to the outside, no lobby, two stories, one elevator and steps up both sides to the second floor. There’s an insurance agent and a chiropractor downstairs, left of Chong is a computer repair place that isn’t open yet. Grizzly goes in first, Panda waits outside with the target, must be clear, the target enters followed by Panda. Curtains in the window stay closed. There is no back door, the suite seems to be decently sized, nothing flashy, nobody to impress. We watch all morning, no one comes or goes, just as Surveillance reported. At lunch, the men come out together and drive off with me following. Janah and Nikko do tourist things, have lunch, pretend to shop. The targets don’t go far, less than a half mile to a small Asian restaurant. Lin Chong goes to a table where a man is already seated, Panda and Grizzly at a separate table, Chong and the man eat and talk. I’m tempted to go in and see if I can pick up any conversation, decide against, reluctant to give the guards a look at me. In under an hour the target leaves, his bodyguards surround him and drive back towards the office.
I’m waiting. Nobody’s run out, jumped into a car and sped away like there’s anything momentous happening.
Janah, So much for getting to do an action scene.
I could drive around at ridiculously high speeds, fishtail around corners, nearly kill a woman with a kid in a stroller, then fly over one of the hills they have for roads here. What’s the point of being in San Francisco if I can’t sail the car and smash the front bumper all to hell?
Hold that fantasy, Bullitt. Instead check and see if they went back to the office, if there’s nothing unusual, come meet us.
A few minutes later I pull up, Janah and Nikko get in. They’d been having tea at a sidewalk café. Janah hands me a takeout cup, I drive the short distance to the hotel, park and we go to the room.
Janah, “Oriental restaurant, our man’s in the Asian import business. Could be a simple business relationship or the restaurant could serve all kinds of purposes, receiving illegal imports, hiding criminals, laundering cash, or even serving food. Did it look like a place we might get to him?”
“I didn’t see any advantage, and if they do the shabby shady there, there’s likely to be help around that would interfere with our interference. We’re going to need to do this in his office. I want to take a look at it tonight, just long enough to see inside, check the layout. Even that’s not life or death, I doubt there’s anything unusual.”
We return that night, Janah stays in the car, eyes open for anything that seems like someone taking an interest in the building or us. The street is empty, a few parked cars, no one in them. I go up the stairs holding a package, dark pants and shirt, clunky shoes, baseball cap. Close up, I would never have passed for UPS. From a distance in the dark it would serve to quell any curiosity. I can see through a crack in the middle of the window where the curtains meet, an open space with a leather couch and two matching chairs, a table with a computer. Over that is a flat screen TV hung on the wall, then a closed door. No other entrance to the rear room, which must be his office. Assuming the office in back is the same width, there is likely a restroom, maybe a small kitchen or place for a copy machine and supplies. I go around back. There’s no simple way to get a peek into the back window, nothing tall enough to stand on, not even a fence in the alley behind the building, just shrubs, no trees. It’s a two story building, no fire escape in the rear.
We’re going to have to hope there’s nothing unusual in the back half of the office. I can’t see breaking in, he’s got an alarm system and they are not so simple to defeat like in the movies. One screw up with the alarm, we put the target on guard, even if it looks like a foul up, kids playing or the wind. We want him here, not staying away until he’s comfortable. Besides, I don’t think he’s keeping an arsenal or a pile of criminals stacked in a closet. The whole point is not to have anything illegal touch him. Keeping anything out of the ordinary in his everyday office would be dumb.
Janah, Get Nikko and let’s go to the hotel.
We pick up pizza, cokes and bottled green tea, sit on the bed with the television on and discuss alternatives.
Nikko, “Chong doesn’t suspect anything weird, certainly not a couple of women going up against his guards. Let’s not overcomplicate things, we’ll knock on the door, making a delivery, asking for a similar name, or another business, or I have a flat tire and my cell phone doesn’t work, could I borrow one, whatever. We just need them to open the door and not be suspicious.”
“We could have an argument in Japanese English outside his door, you know, ‘stupid girl, why don’t you charge the phone, now we got no way to call for help with car, out of gas stupid sister, like that. We can screech and shout, see if they let us in to use a phone. We’ll be bitching at each other in Japanese, they’ll ask us what the matter is, we give them the story in broken English. If Nikko keeps bitching at me, I’ll distract them, she can tag them with a dart or two, they’ll be in dreamland, then we’ll get the target.”
Janah, “And if he’s armed?”
“We take him down with darts or the Taser, my ammonia caps will snap him into consciousness soon enough.”
Nikko, “These guards are good. They may be good enough to dodge the initial attack. I’m not worried about fighting them, I’m worried about the guns.”
“Which is why we won’t do any fighting, why hitting them with sedatives is essential. Frankly, I like this better than having to knock around a bunch of furniture and get all bruised up anyway.”
Nikko, “There’s still a problem.”
Janah, “She’s right. One guard is going to the outer office to open the door. The target and the other guard will be in the back. What if the one who answers the door just comes outside?”
“They could sit in the front room and watch TV for all we know. Look, we dart the guy who answers the door soon as he cracks it open. We’re in. Nikko keeps fussing, use English, don’t be crazy, just sound irritated, don’t scare them. Make it clear it’s a argument between two ditzy girls. Either we dart the second one if he’s upfront or I go to the back office. It’s a stretch to think that the other guard and the target are going to be hiding behind his desk weapons drawn. I’m taking the guards seriously, but we have to use our advantages. We don’t look like either Chinese gangsters or the Immigration cops. We’re going to be in teen girl clothes, look like two self absorbed teenagers having a hissy fit. We just need to create confusion, dart them and skip worrying about how good they might be. If Nikko insists on action, we can offer to meet them in the alley after Chong fires them.”
Nikko pouts, “Mistress always teasing.”
“We can’t beat up people on every job.”
She sighs, “All work, no play.”
“Janah says we have to avoid getting hurt. Simple isn’t all bad, besides, maybe some ninjas will jump out of the closet.”
Nikko plays along, “You think? I hope so, how many?”
Janah giggles, “Tell you what, let’s get ready for bed. I’ll tell you a bedtime story while you fantasize about four crazed Tong assassins springing out of nowhere.”
I don’t know whether it was the assassins, or Janah’s tongue, but Nishiko loses the urge to pulverize anyone by the time we go to sleep.
The sedative in the dart takes under a minute, but it isn't instantaneous. Grizzly opens the door, Nikko is ranting about how stupid I am not to have charged the phone. She shoots him with a dart, I kick him hard in the groin. She scoots past me and goes to the back. Grizzly is a tough bastard, he’s bent over from my shot, but not down. I smash him in the throat with my curled knuckles. He gags, my elbow meets his temple, then meets it again for good measure. He falls flat on his back unconscious.
While I’m playing with Grizzly, Nikko darts Panda. He sneers and reaches for his weapon. She's across the small room with a flying sidekick. She catches Panda on the shoulder, the gun thumps on the carpet. Lin Chong is opening a desk drawer when I sail a shuriken into his chest and another in his hand, then I’m over the desk and kick his chest so the chair slides backwards. Inside the drawer is another gun, I slam the drawer shut and keep my foot on his chest, pin him against the wall.
Panda looks for his gun, Nikko kicks it back behind her. He comes forward in a flurry of kicks, she slaps them away. She sidesteps a front kick and, while his leg is in the air, sweeps her foot behind his ankle. Before he even hits the floor, her titanium capped knee smashes the side of his head, he’s down and twice out, sedated and concussed.
Nikko and I lean on Lin Chong’s desk, he’s still in his chair, bodyguards on the floor, wire around their wrists and feet, blindfolded, duct taped for silence. We’re in no mood for empty threats, or even threatening stares.
Chong, “What is it you want?”
“We’re here because you’ve been importing more than herbs, spices and knock off electronics. We don’t care about your import business, the electronic junk, the food. You make good money at it, you have a nice family life, you’re a minor pillar of the community. We’re happy for you. You’re going to have to exit the criminal import business however.”
He tries for inscrutable, “If I were in such a business, why should I stop because of you? If you wanted to kill me you would have done it by now. What do you want, money? Don’t tell me you’re trying to muscle in.”
“If we wanted the business, we’d take it. Your two bozos weren’t any problem. I’m not into Asian psychos,” nod towards Nikko, “except the one I brought with me. No more illegals. The people you bring in are sociopaths, vicious murdering slugs. It’s going to stop.”
Chong, “Stop me, so what? I pull out tomorrow, three importers line up to replace me. You going to stop them all? Besides, I have many connections.”
“How we deal with them is not your problem. Your problem is me. Here’s why I’m a problem. I know the chain of command and I can tie it all to you.”
I rattle off a list of names, his grimace tells me I have them nailed, “Your connections will evaporate like a politician’s promises.”
“These people are not likely to be very happy with me.”
“Tough. See, you can walk, or I can send all this to the Tribune, extra copies to your family. You can avoid explanations to your associates by simply deciding to retire. As you say, they’ll find a new vendor. You can live a normal life without paying for so-called bodyguards. You might ask for a refund, at least for today.”
Chong looks at Panda lying on the floor, “Don’t worry.”
“Okay, let’s summarize. I gave you an accurate rundown of your involvement. I sidestepped your protection. I know who your political friends are, who and where your family is, who your criminal associates are. I really don’t want to talk to any of those people. You notice no one got seriously hurt. Well, maybe a little pride, and in all fairness, who guards against two girls bitching for God’s sake? I wouldn’t have damaged you if you hadn’t reached for the gun, we haven’t stuck your name in the newspaper or contacted your family. Walk away and we won’t. Tell Odd Job and his girlfriend we robbed you, we’ll mess up the place and take your wallet and credit cards. We’ll hide them from the goons, we’re not here to steal anything. We want you out of the criminal import business. That’s it.”
He sighs, “I was thinking of retiring anyway. My associates won’t be thrilled.”
“Oh well. Money usually keeps everyone pals, give them some. If that doesn’t work for you, get your doctor to declare you have a weak heart, diabetes, an enlarged prostate. Watch television, there’s a new disease every half hour, you’re bound to have one of them.”
He actually smiles, “You’re costing me over a million a year in tax free cash, you know that? You are pain in my ass, but I like you. Must be a grandfather thing. My children haven’t had children yet. I could turn some of those same psychopaths loose on you, you know that?”
“Oh, puh-leeze…..they have to find us, you have no idea who we are, where we live, and zero idea of the depth of our resources. Even if they miraculously find us, all you’ll get is dead psychos and a bad reputation.”
He shrugs, “I wouldn’t do it anyway. I’m not personally in the murder business, I’ve never instructed anyone to kill anyone, or done it myself. I’m not going to start now. And, as I said, I like you. You and your associate stroll in, take out two good bodyguards, pull this off smooth as silk. I admire that.”
“Thank you," he doesn't know how close he is to Sylk, I feel Janah's grin in my head.
"Bear in mind, we’re going to monitor you for a while, you won’t notice. If I even get a feeling you’re cheating, then the first package goes to the family, the second to the paper. You’ll be kicked out of the Asia Society, and your political friends will run away so fast you won’t see their spotty pork fat asses for the dust. It’s been a pleasure chatting, we need to move along. We’ll toss a few things around, stick your money and cards someplace, then you’re free to have a normal upstanding citizen life. We’re going to have to take the cards and money from the guards to make this credible for you.”
Chong, “Take my money too, I don’t have cards. I don’t need anything suspicious. I cut these guys loose and they smell something, I got a problem. They're going to wonder about such talented young women, and why me?”
“I see your point. Okay, I know some people who could use a few extra bucks. We look Asian, maybe we got wind of a guy who might carry a lot of cash, that would be you. You have a safe here no doubt, what's in it?”
Chong is quiet, he knows we'll look for it, and find it. If he doesn't cough up something, it will further raise doubts.
"I keep maybe a hundred grand in it."
"So, the rest is at home or in safe deposit boxes. A million in cash, you can't just trot it to your bank account. Look, open the safe, give us the money. We'll stick it in the ceiling panels."
"How can I trust you not to just walk off with it?"
I shrug, "You can't. Remember though, we could have busted you in public, or I could set loose my companion, she’ll start taking bits of fingers until you have to give us the combination because you won’t be able to spin the dial."
I pull a syringe out of my pocket. "But I have a better excuse for you. This is sodium pentothal. Commonly called truth serum. It'll make you groggy. I'm going to give you just a little and squirt the rest down the toilet. You tell your guards you were drugged. Look, it's a hundred thousand, what are you worth, twenty, thirty million? Give me a break."
He shakes his head, opens the safe, with me over his shoulder to make sure he doesn't also store firepower in it. Nikko and I start to shove it into the ceiling panels in the front room. I don't think he can quite grasp that we don't take it.
“Take the cash. You earned it.”
“Thank you. If it’s any consolation, it will help Chinese American citizens, can’t say who or where, you’ll have to trust me on that.”
“No reason for you to lie, you were going to leave it here. Strange sort of people. Why do this at all?”
“It needs doing.”
Chong nods once, “Perhaps it does.”
Nikko trashes the place enough to be credible while I tie him loosely to the chair, blindfold him, I stick his vein with a small shot of the drug. Now he'd have a visible puncture wound, and be dazed for a bit. Nikko cracks him across the lip, enough to make it bleed. He won’t go under, but he’ll be groggy enough to convince the guards. We hit the door.
Back at the hotel, we’re packing up to leave, Nikko complains, “That was hardly interesting. I didn’t even get a bruise. Maybe better than getting all beat up, not as much fun.”
“You didn’t get beat up last time, you cracked a couple of ribs and a shin and broke a nose, without a scratch on you.”
Nikko, “Not my fault they had more mouth than talent.”
“I’ll provide some pain when we get home.”