Chapter Forty Five
Morning, working girls are heading out the door, Dasha lifts her cheek for the required kiss, turns for the required second kiss. I earn my Dasha blink. Our business girls are sharp mentally and physically. Nikko always had good fashion sense and she keeps her outfits minimalist. Zi adopted the look, then Amaya turned the twins into business elegant. Simple straight skirts, pastel blouses, minimal jewelry, sleek fitted jackets and a touch of makeup. No massive red lips, no porn star eye shadow, straight hair to the shoulder, every strand in place.
Amaya is brushing invisible lint off Dasha's shoulder as she walks out the door, there's no lint, not a speck of dust. It's Amaya's way of reminding her that attention must be paid. Dasha lets it slide, long accustomed to Amaya's sartorial fussiness.
I'm stacking the dishwasher, Amaya is having another coffee at the table with Chloe, the phone rings, Janah answers.
I hear in Janah's head it's Joan Wayne, she doesn't call at eight thirty in the morning to set up play dates, something else is going on.
Janah listens for a couple of minutes, hangs up, stares at the phone and laughs, "That's Joan Wayne."
"Said what she had to say and disconnected."
"Yep, no talk soon, see you later or bye, just gone."
Amaya, "What did she want?"
Janah repeats for Chloe and Amaya, "There's apparently a new kind of serial killer wandering our city and surrounds. The police have a lid on it, they had a suspect, but zero evidence. They've brought him in, questioned him, for hours one time, then an interview at his home a second."
Amaya, "He's alibied?"
"Never offered one. But other people they questioned say he was with them at the time of the suicides. He's a guru, Indian, has an ashram, all the suicides were members, he calls them disciples. She's convinced that if this isn't the guy, it's someone he knows. They questioned his disciples, then dropped it. She doesn't understand the cops throwing in the towel so quickly."
Amaya, "Uh oh yes what?"
Chloe, "It may be a Shadow."
"Ah, of course. Cops question, he takes their mind, they walk away believing he's got nothing to do with it. Joan Wayne doesn't know from Shadows, she just knows a viable suspect is being given a pass."
Janah, "Yes. And we can't go into Shadows with outsiders, even Joan Wayne. Mini knowing about them is one thing, he may not be able to handle a talented Shadow, but he's not a ninety pound Korean girl either."
Amaya, "So what do we do?"
"What we do."
Chloe, "You can't easily put Surveillance on a Shadow."
Janah, "No, but I can put birds."
"Duh, of course."
"Daphne, call David Li, we need him here. Joan Wayne is sending us the file, we'll have his name, address and other vitals. I want to go reverse bird watching. When Daria gets home, we need to hack his everything."
I mental Daria, We think we have a Shadow, right here in town. We don't need you until this afternoon, but try and be home by three, we'll need computer surveillance, okay?
"Daria will be back by three or before," I dial David Li, "We need you here to organize a surveillance."
David Li, "An hour good?"
"Perfect, I'll round up an owl or two, we need the pigeons, not a Peregrine yet, maybe later."
He clicks off. Nothing to do but let Janah review the files, I go back to dishwashing, Amaya and Chloe hang out to hear what's in the reports, we shift to Shadow mindset.
Janah, "Four people dead they know about. All of them could be chalked up to suicide, gun in mouth, pull trigger. Different guns, all pistols, all bought by the suicides within a week prior to death. The victims were wealthy, until a day before they killed themselves. Cleaned out their accounts, wired funds offshore, money disappeared from there."
Amaya, "Who's the suspect?"
"Calls himself Sri Ramanu, worked as an accounting clerk in India prior to coming to the US. There was a brilliant Indian mathematician in the early twentieth century, Srinivasa Ramanujan, he may have picked it up from that. Sri is also a Sanskrit term for radiance or prosperity, also used as a title of respect. People who do Indian gurus use the term when referring to them."
"Maybe I'll go with Sri Daphne, I read about one guy who called himself Sri Sri Somethingorother. I could be Sri Sri Sri Daphne, call his bluff and raise him a Sri."
Chloe giggles, Janah ignores me, Amaya asks, "What's the connection, they members of his sect?"
Janah, "Apparently, his materials, some writings, a self published book were found in each of the deceased homes."
"That's more than suspicious."
Amaya, "Could be some other member of his sect, doesn't have to be Ramanu."
"Maybe it's another jealous guru, can't get Ramanu's followers to defect so he's decimating his population. Is there such a thing as Sri-envy?"
Janah, "Quit screwing around. If it's a Shadow at least it's simpler for us, the birds can spot them. If it's Ramanu or a member of his group, he's going to stand out. Chloe and Zi can verify if the birds turn up anything."
Amaya, "Is there more coffee, triple Sri?"
"Sure," I pour her a cup, Chloe declines, pour myself one, takes care of that pot.
Eloise floats in, she's near soundless, gets a six pack of Red Bull out of the refrigerator, "Need to restock, I'll add it to the list," she floats away.
We have a family website, one of the pages is a grocery list. They add things, I get the list on my cell, snack preferences, toiletry items, Eloise like Powerbars and energy drinks, stuff I can get from a grocery or deli. I could just click items off their websites and they would send it over, but Dasha and I like to wander the aisles, check out new items, examine the produce and meat, get dinner ideas.
Works for us, we like grocery shopping, the others are happy to escape it.
Chapter Forty Six
David Li arrives, Janah shows him the photos of Ramanu, his home, which is a kind of warehouse looking place where he holds his disciple gatherings. He's got a year old Mercedes, the building is recently painted. Sign over the door says, Sri Ramanu Ashram, garlands of flowers line the entrance.
Eloise joins us on the roof, David sent pigeons over from the temple. When he lived in his parents’ former apartment here, he met his friends on our roof often. These are the children's children, maybe even deeper generations, but they all know of the monk who can talk to animals. After a noisy cacophony of flutters and coos, they settle. David instructs them, in a burst, the birds are airborne, circle over our building to synchronize their magnetic compasses and off they go.
Eloise, "Gee, that's amazing, I never saw so many pigeons in one place."
David, "When I told them there was an adventure, they all wanted to be in on it. I send them on training missions, they know to tell me of Shadows if they spot them. They are quite playful, try to make me guess what mysteries they've learned, but they also love to talk, so I just wait until they tell their story."
Amaya, "Will so many create a problem?"
David, "They will spread out, organize the work. It will seem to any observer that there are no more or less birds than usual. New York is full of pigeons."
A barn owl and his mate land silently on the ledge of the wall around our roof, I walk over, "Thank you for coming, we have a project, possibly a Shadow."
The male doesn't react, the female, bigger, flaps her wings once, "Evil Ones. Even in the stupid society of humans, there are those who are beyond normal human ignorance. Where is he?"
I give her directions, show them the photograph of the warehouse, a satellite image of the city. His place is on the outer edges of Queens, furthest from Manhattan.
"The pigeons are snooping around, we think the target is a Shadow, but it may be one of his flock. They come for regular meetings, during the late sun and at night. If you will help, you will be better observers at night."
Mrs. Owl, "What will you do?"
"If there are Shadows, we will kill them."
She blinks at me, reminds me of Dasha, "Good. Your kind is bad enough, slaughtering animals for no reason other than pleasure. Better you stick to slaughtering each other."
"We do that pretty well too."
"Not well enough, there are more of you each new day, fewer of us."
"To our dismay, our family does not see things like the others, we honor the bird, the wilderness creature, all life."
Mr. Owl, "Which is why we will help. We don't care how many humans you kill, kill them all."
"Not our way, but we will kill the worst. Even some animals lose their minds, become killers beyond just for food."
"True, at least we make no weapons, we do it ourselves with the talents nature gives us, not machine death, in which there is no honor."
"Can't disagree. Call to me when you have information, anytime day or dark."
Mr. Owl, "The man, he talks to us as well."
"Yes, he can talk to more creatures than I. I'm only good with the owl and eagle, they gave me their vision, the owl gave me her claws, for the fun of it, she gave me this," I twist my head around, look almost directly behind me.
Mrs. Owl, "Must have liked you, didn't break it."
"I was most grateful."
I earn another blink. Conversation over, they go aloft, directly to the warehouse. If a mouse lives there, he'll be dinner. If a Shadow does, they will feed him to me.
Chapter Forty Seven
Shortly before three, Daria comes in with Dasha, "Janah has the name?"
"Yes, plus location and license plate number. He wasn't arrested, no prints on file."
They go deconstruct from work wear, when Daria's hacked something she'll let us know. Dasha and I kick Qi dummies for a half hour, up to the roof for a bit of balance beam and a few spins around the uneven bars, then it's time to freshen up for tea.
In the kitchen she fishes around for cookies, I get the teas started, black for my Russians, green for the rest, Nikko and Zi arrive, Chloe and Amaya are already at the table.
Dasha must have mentaled her sister, Daria and Eloise come down and we have our afternoon regroup.
Nikko, "Nothing yet I assume."
Janah, "No, too soon for the pigeons, don't know if Daria's had time to dig into his digital life."
Daria, "He has money, his ashram is tax free, the documents are filed and up to date. Two million four hundred fifty three thousand five hundred sixty seven dollars in a standard bank money market fund. He owns the building. He has a website, only vague spiritual comments, we are all one, find peace in meditation, books for sale, donation button, location map, photos of the ashram and people gathered inside."
She passes around the notebook for us to look at.
"Good work Daria, I see one problem right off."
Janah, "Yeah, there is."
"He's too public, photos of himself, members of his ashram, the fancy Mercedes. Shadows don't operate that way."
Amaya, "Joan Wayne seemed pretty certain."
"She's right about the ashram, four suicides from one group in less than a year, all of whom buy a gun and use it in a week. His talks can't be so bad people would rather die than listen to them."
Janah, "Maybe the jealous guru theory isn't so weird after all, but I doubt it's that. The birds will give us a clue."
Nikko, "You think it is one of his disciples."
Zi, "Why so many at this one place? There are rich people all over town. Doesn't it bring the killer more attention?"
Janah, "Remember the woman who killed off husbands because she wanted to be suspected?"
"Yes, Jacobson, she got off on the whole interrogation process, name in the paper, the rush of getting away with it."
"If the killer is a Shadow, he, maybe she, wants the money, but they also want to see the friends and family suffer. Keeping it within the group gives him a front row seat. If that's what happened, we have another problem."
Dasha, "Nobody ees anymore want to go there."
Nikko, "Right, frankly I'm surprised he has a group at all after the first two, perhaps people sought the comfort of the guru. Attendance must have tanked after three, anyone still around after the forth has a death wish."
Janah, "I studied Indian gurus, casually anyway, they have a highly loyal core following. Others guru sample, come and go. The suicides might actually make some of them cling together more tightly. Particularly if they aren't rich, they don't see themselves as targets, and the guru has a powerful hold on them. The whole relationship with a guru is trust, he says it's this way or that, that's how it is. I also discovered that lots of these guys have a gaggle of young attractive women to cater to them, ride around in flashy cars, it's not an ascetic life."
"What happened to the days of impoverished Buddhas?"
Janah, "Adoring young women trumped sitting in the dirt with a begging bowl."
"I can see that, more reason for me to become a guru. Amaya, please arrange garlands of fresh orchids and rose petals to throw at my feet."
"I will get right on it your Srilessness."
We wrap up tea, Dasha and I clear the table, I don't see any rose petals, or a single orchid, Dasha asks, "What ees dinner Dahfoney?"
"Roast chicken? Pick up sides from the deli?"
"Da, okay, we will go now."
"I bet gurus never have to pick up dinner from the deli."
Dasha, "Nyet Dahfoney, you will not haf rose bush on your feet, only sneaker, you can buy orchid at flowering shop."
Chapter Forty Eight
Amaya bartends, Dasha has her vodka, I have my non-intoxicating Coke Zero, Janah is on the roof with David Li talking to pigeons. We lay out a few bowls of nuts, pretzels for crunching with cocktails, then cut up the chickens to warm in the oven. We added macaroni and cheese, Dasha is stir frying mixed vegetables. We could get that from the deli too, but they tend to overcook, we like ours just touched to the heat, left crispy.
Janah and David Li return from the roof, "If there's a Shadow, it isn't Ramanu or his gophers. The birds scoped all the people at the ashram as they came and went, and there are windows in front and along one side. They aren't hiding anything."
Amaya, "What now?"
"There isn't a formal meeting until day after tomorrow. The birds only saw the staff and a few loyalists. We may have something after they get a look at more people. Until then, nothing to do. Whatever is happening, doesn't look like the guru has anything to do with it."
Daria, "We looked closer at his accounts. The money was there, most of it, before the suicides started. If the guru is taking the suicides' money, it is someplace else. There have been no sizable transfers from his account or into his account. Someone donated a hundred thousand six months ago, we checked the name, that person is still alive, old lady in Brooklyn."
Janah, "If it's him, he wouldn't put it in his regular account, even if it bounced around various banks first. I don't think it's him anyway, it's too obvious and he loses his ashram, seems self-defeating. Tomorrow Daria, if Nikko can spare you, go through the list of everyone the cops talked to, see who's who."
Nikko, "This is more important, she's not missing much at the office. Dasha can come along if she wants to, she's been quite helpful, the clients fall in love."
"Ees gud for fahmahley, I talk Eemaya bahloney, so gud to see you, we will make you money hand in fist, you will haf top property manager, everyone want to be een Murakami Seelk building. Sign contact, haf a nice day, bye bye now, thanking you for beezness."
Amaya has her face in her hands, "God have mercy."
Zi, "She's yanking your chain. Dasha is incredibly professional, keeps enough accent to charm and, like Daria, doesn't smile. I think they picked that up from Nikko, she doesn't smile in negotiations either, or even when negotiations are finished. Everything is orderly, clear and no nonsense. The clients appear to like it, they don't feel like it's a sales job, they are given facts and there's no suck up or back slap."
Amaya, "I am relieved, I thought for a moment the communist might have actually gone overboard," she kisses Dasha. "you are splendid, entirely due to me."
"Time for dinner, tonight do it buffet style. There is ice cream afterwards, cones or cups, all our favorite flavors and additives, hot fudge, sprinkles, chopped walnuts, whipped cream."
They collect choices, sit around the big table, Amaya says, "I am almost finished with Chloe's next adventure. I cannot decide whether to go with Ultra Violet II or create a new title."
"Her name in the movie was Sumire (紫色 prn su-mee-ray) for Violet. Seems too confusing to title the movie her Japanese name."
Amaya, "No, that will not work, and Shingaisen (shing-eye-sen) for ultra violet is no better. I use the word in the book, but only to explicate. Better to go simplistic and keep continuity. Maybe Childers will have another idea, but he's already talking Ultra Violet II."
Zi, "Do people associate our restaurant with the movie?"
Dasha, "Sometimes a customer that knows us makes connection, not so much."
Amaya, "Perhaps the sequel should include the restaurant, a scene of Chloe having dinner. I have to think it over. It is shameless self promotion and it is not as if we need to attract more customers."
"Maybe make it less obvious, you and Chloe have dinner, show off the tablet menu; when you leave, get in a shot of the exterior and sign. It might be fun for the audience to catch the reference."
Nikko, "Have a budget for this yet?"
Amaya, "Childers is doing numbers, we do not pay our star but guild minimum, we do not pay me, there are writers to morph my book into a screenplay. We do not use big name actors. I think we can come in under fifteen million. There are the same locations, LA, New York. I do not blow up buildings or have elaborate expensive chase scenes. In this book, Sumire's apartment explodes in the opening scene, but she is outside coming down the street when it happens. It demonstrates there are still people after her. Then cuts from the first movie, to reconnect to her young life and how she got to this point."
Nikko, "Studios still after you?"
Amaya, "A little, they got the message after our last film, we did well as an independent and there is no reason to cede creative control to a studio. Childers works within my parameters, the movie should reflect the book, not a version of the book. Even if most of the audience never read it."
"I think your audience is a little more like the Potter fans, they did read the books and they expect to see what they read. Yours are like Sherlock Holmes stories, the better productions were almost always how the book unfolded. Modernizations, like the BBC Sherlock series, made adaptations to current era, cell phones, computers, but generally stuck to the characterization."
Amaya, "The Robert Downey movies went over the top, but they were American, not British productions and fell into the chase scene big explosions trap. They did well though, a billion bucks between the first two, and there's a third waiting on a script. We do not merit a blockbuster franchise, no matter, I like the way we do it. Two of our actors went on to good roles elsewhere, the young lady who played Sumire as a child got cast in a studio production and had a role in an HBO movie."
Not bad for an indie flick, we made a few million, Chloe and Amaya had fun, our director got offers from brand names. Considering Nikko was a novice at film production and Chloe had limited acting experience, we did great in a tough business.