No relation to the story, I just like Kotakoti, sooo kew-tah.
Chapter Forty Five II
Daphne, You never played Barbie when you were little?
Janah, I was waiting for my perfect Barbie, Barbie
Mrs. Epstein, “Come here, let me look at you. You two are so bad, if anything would have happened…okay, I know, nothing did, and it wasn’t like you had much choice, so bless you for taking care of the poor old woman.”
“Poor old woman, that’s funny. We left the guys better off than Mrs. Fong would have, she’s a tough old lady.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Don’t I know it.”
“You know her?”
“Yes, dear, I know her, we’ve had real estate dealings. Do you have any idea how much of Chinatown she owns?”
“Janah thinks it’s significant. Doesn’t stop her from giving me hell. Mrs. Fong treats Janah like her favorite daughter, I’m the ugly stepsister.”
“She must be blind as a bat then. I’m familiar with her fussing. Every dollar of rent, every brick in the building, every plumbing leak is her business. Mind like a steel trap. All that posturing is to make people think she’s cracked. Far from it. I’d let the old fussbudget invest my money if I wasn’t so good at it myself. She also has warehouses that aren’t in Chinatown. She’s worth millions, maybe triple digit millions.”
Janah, “She gives a fair amount to the temple, extracts her price from Master Sung. He troops over there a couple of times a month, calls it humility meditation.”
“Small town, New York. Our favorite, what, fourth mom, lives on Park Avenue and does deals with a cranky Chinese friend in Chinatown.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Closer to grandmother, but let’s not quibble. I don’t fiddle much with real estate. Enough to know who’s who. You have to or you get massacred in this town.”
Janah goes to Dr. Epstein’s office with James, they’re gone a half hour. I occupy the others with training stories and as much about temple life as is allowed. It doesn’t prohibit me discussing my personal studies, so I talk about calligraphy a bit, skip qi training, give them an update on the boys.
“Black is huge, he’s over six-three now and still going, and solid as a rock. Chan is a fireplug, not quite as tall as Sis, built like a refrigerator. Poor David had to deal with them at a very normal five-ten and maybe 155 pounds, I may be giving him credit.”
Chris, “What do you mean had to? Something’s changed?”
“He discovered a natural affinity for weapons. Pick one, David makes it sing and dance. He can do things with shuriken that are unreal. Janah tosses tennis balls in the air and he nails them.”
Chris, “With a throwing star? Get out.”
“He puts three or four in a foot square board, like skeet. Janah gets out ten or twelve feet, tosses it spinning in the air and zip, zip, zip, zip. He’s trying to get to half a dozen. They were going through too many tennis balls. Nunchucks, three section staff, all the blades, doesn’t matter. If he can hold it, he owns it. His eye hand coordination is just unreal.”
Chris, “Better than…?”
Susan, “Modesty, is that something new?”
I ignore her, “You’ll see David soon, ask him about it. Unlike Chan, he has no trouble talking.”
Janah and the docs reappear and join us. Nobody asks, nobody tells. I’d picked up most of the actual conversation.
Mrs. Epstein, “Dinner’s ready, everyone’s hungry I hope?”
Janah, “You can always count on me.”
We have pumpkin soup, green salad with Janah’s favorite, bleu cheese. She has mixed stir fry and tofu, the rest of us grilled fish, soufflé potatoes, creamed spinach, lots of crusty French bread, almond torte and chocolate truffles for dessert. Janah is helping clean out the soufflé potatoes and spinach, while I work on a second truffle.
“Mrs. E, dinner was amazing, as always.”
Janah, “The stir fry was perfect, the vegetables just touched to the heat, served crispy and crunchy. It’s a talent to get that done and have everything else come out perfectly cooked as well, congratulations to the chef.”
Mrs. Epstein, “He’s on loan from an old friend of yours, Chef Villaume. When he heard Mademoiselles Daphne and Janah were coming to dinner, he let me wrestle one of his assistants away for tonight, sent regrets he couldn’t come himself. It’s the holidays, I was delighted to get Paul. The poor dear had to go back to the restaurant, I promised we’d see them before the New Year.”
“Yummy. When are we going?”
Mrs. Epstein, “Perhaps between Christmas and New Year’s, can that be done?”
Susan, “When you get your schedule set, call me, we’ll be there any day that suits.”
I excuse myself and call down to the doorman.
When the bell rings, I hop up to get it and take the big package from him, return to the living room and hold it out for Mrs. Epstein, “This is from Janah and me.”
Mrs. Epstein puts her hand to her mouth, “Oh my, may I open it?”
I hold it while she strips off the paper, when I flip it around for her to see, Mrs. Epstein can only sit and stare, “Bernie, oh my. Bernie, do you see. It’s simply beyond marvelous. Do you see how splendid it is?
Kara had her gallery frame one of my drawings, a stunningly, if I do say so, sharp 少林 Shaolin in hànzi, and what had become my signature mark in the lower right corner, 二为一体 (two as one.) The narrow swipes of deep black ink lift off the page and appear to float on top of the fine paper. Fixed to an acid free backing and covered with non glare glass. The frame is black P.nigra polished bamboo, cut in the stage between its youthful luminous green and gold and the mature deep black, making the frame look as if it has been meticulously painted as well. It had of course, by nature.
The impact of the work is, in a complete lack of humility, breathtaking, regardless of what one knew about either calligraphy or framing. The frame alone set Susan back over a thousand, the art itself had been examined by another gallery owner who handles Chinese art, specifically calligraphy. He set no value. He said he’d never seen anything like it, Kara said his comments were, ‘the lines are exquisite, the layer of ink so consistent I momentarily thought it a print, one stroke flows gracefully into another.’ Almost casually, he suggested we insure it for at least a hundred, he meant a hundred thousand.
When she first told me, I replied, “Not bad for a few quick brush strokes. If I’d known, I’d have used more ink.”
Mrs. Epstein is crying softly hugging me, then Janah. “There is no way to express my appreciation. It’s the most exquisite thing I’ve ever seen, I’m totally overwhelmed.”
“Well, if you get tired of it, you can always turn it upside down, most people won’t know.”
“It’s going right in here, in the main room. It will be the focus of the room. I need only to paint one wall, the background isn’t right, it needs to be ivory, and a few window treatment adjustments on that one side. I can go lightly oriental there. I know, a tall vase, on the floor just to one side, nothing to distract from this piece. Actually, nothing could distract from this piece. Bernie, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, with two exceptions.”
She hugs us again, “Thank you my angels.”
It’s getting late, the doorman tracks down a couple of cabs. We say our goodbyes when he calls up to tell us the taxis are waiting. Back at the condo, all Janah and I want is to pile up together and appreciate the big comfortable bed versus the thin mats of the temple.
“You’re thinking over Dr. Epstein’s conversation, in the office earlier.”
“You won’t be in the temple much longer. Can’t do anything about it until you’re out, if I had to decide today, I’m ninety percent yes. I’m glad there’s more time to digest it. So far, I don’t see a better alternative that helps. I see a better alternative where I sit and watch you workout and paint all day, then I make love to you and we do it all again the next day.”
“I’m partial to that one.”
“You’re willing to give up low profile travel to small towns, dangerous work and no recognition, just to hang out and be my sex toy?”
“No sacrifice is too great.”
“I’m hungry for you, make out with me a little while, then when I’m good and steamy, I’ll have my favorite bedtime snack, Daphne Tartare.”
Janah is particularly ravenous this evening. It is quite a while later before we curl up. I’m still glowing nicely as Janah puts me to sleep and scoots down to her spot on my tummy, trails her fingers along my legs for a while, then falls into a deep dreamless sleep herself.
Chapter Forty Six II
Some religions have crosses,
some have beanies and candlesticks,
others have prayer rugs.
They all have rules, and guys who sit around
endlessly arguing about the rules.
At least with Voodoo,
they stick pins in their dummies.
The moms, Janah and I are hanging at the Village Diner, chewing the fat with Chuck and Mini. It’s the easygoing time between the end of lunch and before the dinner crowd. I go visit a table of afternoon regulars, transit cops, ones who work out of uniform, ride the subways all day. I slip into a booth next to a giant black cop named Francis, he’s from Jamaica, has the patois like the street vendors across the way. Across the booth are Barry and Jacob, tough Jewish kid, learning the ropes, Barry an old timer showing then to him.
Francis, “Ah, it’s de gung fu girl. Dis girl here, she done cleaned up de riffraff in Chinatown de udda day. Got a lot of brass, gung fu girl. I see de White Angel ova dere wit’ you. She got de voodoo, don’ pay to cross de White Angel, mon.”
“You superstitious Francis, big hunk like you?”
Francis, “No girl, superstition got nuttin to do wit’ it. In de islands, I see tings a man not evah supposed to see. Dere, some people got de power over de mind, and dey can make tings bad or good for you. You don’ mess wit dem, sista. De White Angel, she got de power. Francis got eyes, he can see. White Angel put dat man down in de restaurant wit’ one hand only; I hear dese tings, I tink about de islands.”
Barry, “You got a good rep from that, Daphne. Those guys were bad business. They woulda killed that old woman sure as I’m sitting here. Everybody knows her, head like a brick. You saved her life, maybe other people’s too, people they won’t get to assault while they sit in jail. When I first heard, I thought it was a stupid civilian thing, couple of kids who got lucky. Jocelyn says luck had nothing to do with it, said the cooks told her you and Janah both went into action like someone flipped a switch. Then it was over.”
Francis, “I tol you dat, mon. Dat girl and dis one here, dey talk widout speaking. You go ask White Angel right now, she tell you everything we say to dis one. I knew two sistas in de islands, just working girls. Never say a word to each udda, but de one could tell you what de udda was doing across town, who dey talking to, what dey say.”
“Wow, they could really do that? Janah and I have spent so much time together, we grew up in the same house, we live and work together at the temple. It would be surprising if we didn’t know what the other one was thinking.”
Barry, “See, there’s always a simple explanation, no reason to make some mystery out if it.”
Jacob, “My grandfather knew an old rabbi, back before Israel was Israel. He swore the rabbi had a student that understood everything he wanted with never a word between them. People would come for guidance from the old man, he’d listen, never speak. The student would tell them this or that, explain the Torah and Talmud, instruct them. No one questioned that it was from the rabbi, didn’t matter that the voice of the student said the words. My grandfather said when someone was doubtful, questioning whether the words were from the rabbi, he would ask them how it was any stranger than parting a sea or getting instructions from a burning bush. It didn’t matter how it worked, the guidance was always sound, it followed the Torah, it was clear. What difference did it make if it came from a monkey in a tree?”
“He had a point.”
Barry, “I got enough mysteries riding the trains all day. I’m glad you have the skills to deal with punks. Story is that one guy was about to hit Janah, a second one was pulling the hammer back; cost him his hand, should have been more expensive in my view. Shaolin are too nice.”
“We have restrictions, like cops, just fewer.”
Jacob, “Some things we see, it’s everything we can do not to dispense instant justice. Just yesterday, some woman wailing on a kid, no more than six. If it hadn’t been in a public place, I could easily have clocked her. I did manage to cuff her too tight. Kid goes to social services for a while, she’ll be sent back to her mother. One day she’ll grow up to beat her kids, the circle of love.”
“You did your job, you’ll be a great cop like these two and we respect you for it. Lots of the citizens are grateful. We get more flexibility, don’t have to read them their rights.”
Barry, “At first, everyone wanted to see you on the force. They’re starting to think you’re more effective on your own.”
“Best of the season to you.”
Janah comes over and introduces the moms. Francis takes Janah’s hand, traces his finger across her palm, studying it, he looks up at her, dead serious, “You got de power don’ you? You can’t say it, but Francis got eyes, he can see.”
Our story will continue in Book III