Chapter Forty Nine

"Amaya, drive Daria and me, we need to chat with Senor Gonzales-Menendez. May not need them, but take the pharmaceuticals Daria. Eloise, keep the drone on the apartment. I doubt the cokehead is leaving, and his car is still tracked, but maybe we pickup more detail."
Nikko, "Shouldn't we grab Maloney and Morgan now?"
Janah, "I've got an idea, let me talk to Menendez first. It would help if you came along, we'll be busy with the target, you might walk the perimeter every so often, Zi needs to rest."
Amaya takes them to one of the Society's dead drops. Empty space in the middle of industrial development, storage and delivery, warehouse, supply companies, everything from electrical, plumbing, uniform services. Active during the day, silently asleep at night.
Black rides off, he lives in Brooklyn, can go home now and rest. Zi slides up the door, Amaya backs in. The warehouse is maybe fifteen hundred square feet, bathroom, small refrigerator. Nikko shuts the door and remains outside. The Society keeps the power on, the utilities paid. Once in a while we or another Social Skills team needs a quiet spot to store or refocus targets. Drain in the middle of the floor, handy for washing blood away. Case of bleach, handy for washing everything away.
Nikko circles the block on foot, only a New York rat or two. When she returns, she leans against the door frame in the shadows and waits. Inside, Black left Gonzales planted on a chair, with his ankles and wrists in picture wire, there's no need to further restrain him. Zi climbs into the SUV and stretches out.
Janah pulls the rag out of Jose's mouth, he's still blindfolded, "¿Qué quieres?"
Amaya, "Ingles, Señor Menendez, it's late and I'm in no mood for translating."
Amaya's voice is not Amaya's voice. One of her talents is an uncanny ability to mimic any voice she chooses, male female, accented or no. Tonight, she's a gravelly voiced Midwestern man.
Menendez is supposed to be Jose Gonzales, that someone knows his real name presents a problem. He assumes the voice is with the DEA.
"Okay, what's going on?"
Voice, "Morgan and Maloney have been skimming from drug busts. They also used you to snitch on deals, which they appropriately used to make arrests and inappropriately used to lift a few kis to sell. You are in shit up to your ass and the shit keeps rising."
Menendez, "I'm doing my job, if Morgan is stealing, I don't know jack about it."
Voice, "Sal, let me cut to the chase. You're a dirty DEA agent, which is redundant, but we'll pass on that for now, so are your pals Morgan and Maloney. We aren't with the agency, we aren't competition for Buster, we aren't in the drug business at all. You don't need to know who we are, you need to know that Morgan and Maloney are upset with your decision to pull out. So upset, they fail to see a reason to leave you above ground, much less to enter WITSEC."
Menendez starts to object, deny, his head shakes no, Voice says, "I'm going to remove the blindfold, you are going to watch a short video, then I tell you what happens next."
The warehouse goes black. All Sal can see is an electronic something pad, he blinks to focus, the video starts. It's the recording from the drone, both while he's at the apartment and after he leaves. It blinks off. Daria blindfolds him again, the single bulb above lights a small circle around his head.
Voice, "Do you see your difficulty?"
He shakes his head, "Fuckers, Morgan I never trusted, but Maloney...ahhh, the asshole, always looking for more cash, gambling whoring motherfucker."
Voice, "Now you get to make a video. On the video you will explain your role, your knowledge of what Morgan and Maloney did, in detail. We don't need your recollections of three years undercover, you'll work that out with the Attorney General. Give us the last few months, enough to wet their appetite, say there's a lot more. You want to come in, make a full confession, but you need protection. A lawyer will be with you when you turn yourself in."
Menendez, "Why do this? Why should I trust you?"
"I don't care if you do or you don't. You may want to consider the alternative, I could have let Morgan and his girlfriend take you out. Make the video, or I just send the video we have to the AG, and you can hope they get to you before Morgan. Look, all of you are going down. The question is, do you want to go as far down as Morgan and Maloney? Now, I have hot coffee and a video cam. What's it going to be?"
"Can I get cut loose at least?"
Voice, "Sure, hands only. One thing for your own protection, a tiny taste of what happens if you move any muscle but your mouth."
Daria points her finger at his back, what he feels is an electric shock, not so as to make him leap out of the chair, but enough to know he best be a good boy.
Menendez, "Fuck! gonna electrocute me? What happens to my testimony?"
Voice, "Once again, last time. We don't care if you testify, you need to care if you testify dipshit. I'm out of patience, Sal."
"Cut me loose, I'll take the coffee, gimmie a minute, then turn on the camera."
We do, he's seen the light, felt the shock, and he's got an excellent memory.

Chapter Fifty XIII

Morning comes, an anonymous sedan with two monks in street clothes take Menendez to a criminal attorney's office in Queens. The videos, both of them in compilation, are in the hands of the US Attorney General with a note that says if the thing is swept under the rug copies go to the Times and Washington Post. The AG can either take credit for uncovering corruption, or the press will have a field day speculating how deep the problem goes in the DEA, an agency he supervises.
We go home. Amaya, Janah, Daria, and I spend the morning asleep, get mobile around one.
The phone rings, it's Dominic, "They released Gennaro, talk of receiving stolen property, but under the circumstances his lawyer thinks the charges will disappear. A giant step from possession of coke with an intent to distribute. I don’t know what you did, or how, but your family is never paying for food from Marconi's again. Gennaro insisted, so don't make no argument."
"Are we allowed to tip the delivery guy?"
Dom laughs, "Oughta be tip enough to bring dinner to a houseful of gorgeous women, but yeah, you wanna, okay by me."
"Well, they don't get to see all of us, usually Dasha and I show up to collect, Paladin Security doesn't let anyone get past the entrance unless it's a parent and only on approved days. I think a gratuity is in order. Thank you for your generosity, but we're happy to pay, you don't need to tell Gennaro. Isn't omerta part of the code?"
He laughs again, "Omerta don't count with family, you don't pay, capiche?"
"Got it, tell Gennaro to be careful, the world is full of dishonest people. Honest brokers of misplaced merchandise get a bad rap."
"I'll be sure he understands, and, thank you, you guys are the best. Oh, he said to tell you he's sending over a few things, he didn't say what, just accept it, okay? It's how he understands the world."
"We are most grateful, tell him I said so."
The next day, we get a rack of furs, a box of diamond jewelry, a dozen Versace dresses and six full length lambskin coats, soft as melted butter.
Janah, "What are we going to do with fur coats?"
Amaya, "I have no clue what you plan to do, I shall wear mine, if anyone asks, I will tell them it is fake. People cannot tell the difference. God, they are gorgeous, Chloe, come here, try this on, and the dresses, splendid. Need adjustment for the beanpole, I know just who to make alterations, a fitting genius. The brats will look amazing in fur, a Russian tradition. Daphne, this Versace is made for you, my eye tells me no alterations will be required, one for Nikko, one for Zi. I have no idea what to do with the diamonds, I will display them on Chloe's stand, anyone who wants to wear something should simply take it. Beautiful stones, and elegant, not gaudy at all. How very sweet of Gennaro. There must be a hundred thousand dollars of carats here."
Janah, "Would be insulting to sell the stuff I suppose, worse to give it away, maybe donate it to some fundraiser?"
"Janah, it was given in gratitude, it's not like we're taking a bribe. If it makes you feel better, let's donate a hundred grand to something."
Janah, "We give away money already. I'm partial to this bracelet, if I'm going to accept one thing, I have to accept it all. Do as you please."
It's a complicated world, the high road is a slap in the face to a friend who doesn't know any better, the low road is to accept it as a payoff, but for what? We didn't go in with the expectation of any reward except to help a friend caught up in nothing he created. We torture assholes, kill some. Accepting Gennaro's attempt at generosity is small change, maybe it's Buddhist, the middle low road. Rationalization works for me.

Chapter Fifty One

Susan calls, "Looks like Gennaro got bailed out."
"Nobody's been talking I hope."
"No, Dominic told me they dropped the charges, he didn't say why, I didn't ask. I'm not so dumb as to think it was a miracle. He was arrested for receiving dope in a container of auto parts. Then a story is all over the news about DEA agents arrested for skimming cocaine from evidence some of which came from a container of auto parts. You're pals with the Marconis. Coincidences happen I suppose."
"Zi got to ride on Black's Harley, now she wants one."
Susan, "I'm up to my ears in Daria's latest, the code for handwriting translation is a bitch, but we have a decent start."
"Then it's back to work geek, see you later."
Janah, Dasha and I head over to the Village Diner, pass the Jamaicans on the way.
"De Seelk, Dasha, Janah, you manage to get a piece of DEA cleaned up, even widdout our help."
"Attorney General just got lucky."
Juju smiles, "An Gennaro, he got lucky too, yah?"
"Lots of luck in the air, maybe I'll buy a lottery ticket, good to see you guys, bye now."
I hear Juju telling Mighty Jim, "De man come against us, first person you call bes' be De Seelk."
We seat ourselves in the diner, it's ten, between breakfast and lunch, "Coffee and tea Chuck, just killing time."
Mini comes over, "Nice work, bet Gennaro was happy."
"Haven't talked to him, I'm glad things worked out."
Mini, "Flippin' DEA, bunch of legalized criminals. I hope the thing stays under wraps, close call, people know you're pals with Marconi. Agents out there may want to retaliate, if they was to know."
"They can give it their best shot. Better they lay low and mind their manners, but mix too much testosterone and guns, people get stupid."
Mini, "I got my nose in the wind, quiet like. I catch the stink of any of those pukes snoopin' around, you'll be hearing from me."
"Always good to have friends. We have contacts in the agency, and the AG’s office. They don't know us by name. But we've helped them slide things along in the past, tidied up interdepartmental issues. Some DEA field guy gets a burr up his butt, he's going to find himself with a dog in the Arizona desert looking for contraband cacti, in the summer, when it's one fifteen out."
Mini laughs, "Don't want no problems, but I'd love to see that."
Coffee comes, Mini rumbles off to his kitchen, we move along to lunch plans and how to kill the afternoon.
Dasha, "Eemaya and Chloe are making photography for mahgazin, only Eloise and Oceane at home. We haf seemple lunch, go to deli for something."
"Sounds good."
We walk to Sehba Deli, Sy is behind the counter. I've never seen him not behind the counter, or his wife Sehba not at the checkout, or cooking, or shelving goods.
"Hey Daphne, hi Dasha, Janah, I got fresh hummus, and roast chicken right out of the oven."
"There are five of us today, put together what you think, tell you what, the roast chicken sounds good for dinner, got three? We'll take the hummus for lunch, is that seafood salad?"
"Yes, seafood for four, hummus for five, something else for Janah?"
Janah, "Pasta salad."
Sy wraps the chickens in foil, salads and hummus in plastic containers, "Anything else?"
"Beet and onion mix with the chicken, baked beans, two loaves of Boule, they look nice and crusty."
Sy, "Soft and chewy inside, delivered this morning."
We managed to wrap lunch and dinner in one short stop, home now. I put dinner away, we gather around the table for lunch.
Oceane studies seafood salad, says to the dish, "You used to swim, like me, I am ocean," takes a bite, "you loved your home, me too."
Eloise, "Daria and Susan have the first run at code for the handwriting conversion. I should be ready to test the printer in a week, maybe sooner."
"Has Amaya written anything, by hand?"
"I don't know. Nothing to do until we give it a test, and there are bound to be bugs. All we need is a couple of paragraphs and we don't need them for another week."
"Is it something patentable?"
Eloise, "The code is proprietary, original code falls under copyright law. I've made additions to the printer so the chips can run the program. I have no idea if that's patentable."
Janah, "Nikko will find out. Handwriting translation to typed text from a printer scan is unavailable as far as I can find."
Eloise, "The problem is each person's handwriting is different. It would be simpler if it was not cursive, just block print like when you learn to write. But that's too cumbersome for anything long. The initial program, if it works, will only apply to Amaya's handwriting. Changing that to any neat cursive writing isn't too hard. Someone who writes in scribble would have to spend hours making the computer understand. It's the same problem as spoken word to text. Accents, dialects, how fast or slow someone dictates, entering commas, periods, quotation marks, everything has to be spelled out to the program. Spoken word to text is okay for notes, where you don't worry about punctuation or precise spelling. For a novel, it's a nightmare."
"What if she doesn't even like writing by hand?"
"We still have the code. We'll play with it until it does a good job deciphering clear handwriting. It will always need to be adjusted to the person who uses it, I don't see a way around that. It could store thousands of examples, but a new user comes along, it's still going to have to learn that person's style. If it works for Amaya, that may be as far as we take it, people seldom write anything of length by hand anymore. We don't even make written grocery lists around here."
It's true, ten women tap in needs to a central notepad, it goes to my phone and Dasha's, we delete items as we buy them. Even Oceane has learned to tap in art supplies, she never requests food or toiletry items, she eats what we give her, uses the toiletries we buy, Amaya passes through her bathroom and notes items she needs.
Why do all this for one girl, like she's a princess? Same reason we don't force education on her. We have the resources to support her as is. She never asked us to do these things, she never made any rules or requirements, it wouldn't occur to her. She has sensitive creative skills, if she makes up her conversations with things, or if she's tuned into some universe we aren't, is immaterial. She's meticulous about her environment, nothing is out of place, if she's not in her bed, it's made up. She does her own cleaning, talks to the brushes and cleansers as she goes. There's not so much as a stray drop of water on her bathroom counter. Her few dresses, coats and other clothes put away in her closet. She's willing to go out more now, but she never asks to go out. Dasha and I will take her grocery shopping, or to lunch, walk around the Village. She never asks to buy anything, she talks to vegetables in the produce aisle, but not meat at the butcher counter, or fish at the seafood display. I asked her why, she said it's behind glass in a case and is silent, she can't touch it. When we get it home and unwrapped, she talks to it then. She can't tell us where it came from, she doesn't know one state from another, one ocean from another, but she can tell if it was in a pen or lived in the open, what it ate, whether it was ever sick, if it was cold or hot. It's the same with eggs, chicken, anything that was alive. Why does she know these things? We have no idea. What purpose do they serve? Perhaps something, we throw out anything that she says has been sick. Since almost everything alive has been ill at some point, how do we keep anything? According to Oceane, it was sick when it was killed, if it was ill when it was young, then got well, it doesn't register with her.
Seems weird, then again, I can, if I turn up my radar, tell when people are ill, if they have a cold, heart trouble, cancer, diabetes, you name it. The scents vary, from bitter to burned, smoked meat, burning leaves, toasted sugar. Cancers are acrid, stronger the worse it is. Heart problem is an overheated engine, diabetics are burned sugar, colds are burning leaves, flu is like a forest fire. Dogs do this all the time, no reason a human with enough extra scent receptors can't. I can't turn it off, but I can lower the volume to near mute, I have to, almost everyone has something, it would be crazy in a city like New York.

Chapter Fifty Two

Dasha and I run vacuums, change sheets in a couple of bedrooms. We're not the only housekeepers, good thing, it’s a lot of space. Amaya does Chloe's room. She also does the twins. Zi does the room she shares with Nikko. I do Amaya's room, Janah's and mine, Eloise does Eloise. She and Daria take care of the workshop. Janah and Zi do most of the laundry, Nikko helps dust and straighten on weekends. Dasha doesn't let anyone but she and I deal with the kitchen. The roof kept clean and swept by Dasha, Oceane, me or Chloe. Keep after things, the place stays neat and orderly all the time.
Why the jumble rather than every girl for herself? We think we do a better job if we do it for someone else. The overlap works for us.
Everyone's home, tea comes and goes, no blowback from our recent exploit. We caught the initial news reports, there will be typical Congressional posturing after the arrests, likely a hearing. The Attorney General offers the usual platitudes about weeding out bad agents, no mention of how they got the evidence other than Menendez turning himself in. Agent in charge in Long Island demoted to a forgotten backwater.
It's cocktails and dinner, today they enjoy the libation of choice around the dining table, Oceane is having a conversation with a glass of white wine, this time Graves. I don't know what it's telling her, it's in French.
Amaya, "Talking grape juice, you realize we cannot let her out of our sight. What do they say when she chats with the cabbage in the produce aisle?"
"It's Manhattan, every second person is having a dialogue with themselves, or talking into a machine, almost never to each other. I presume they either think she's on a mobile, or just another Village flake."
Dasha, "Eemaya ees always talk to word processing screen, 'what ees name of third cop, what the hell was she wearing when she was shot, what kind of car did I say they have?' What ees deeference eef Oceane talks to wine?"
Amaya goes for indignant, "I do not! How ridiculous," then she laughs, "Chloe says the same thing, she often remembers for me. I am not talking to the screen, I am asking Chloe to help."
Dasha, "You are beegest liar, you talk when Chloe ees no in room."
Oceane takes a sip, "The wine likes to be appreciated, it said, 'il est notre but, à apporter de la joie,' she takes another sip, "merci beaucoup."
Nikko, "What did it say?"
Amaya, "It is our purpose, to bring joy, then the fish flake said thank you very much. How do I thank the vodka?"
Daria, "Spasibo."
Amaya looks at her glass, "Spasibah," she twirls the vodka around, "I didn't hear it say you are welcome."
Oceane, "It said dobro pozhalovat'." prn dahbro pahzhal-ovit (you are welcome)
Amaya kisses Oceane on the forehead, "You are a treasure."
Oceane smiles, tells her Graves, "Je suis dans son cœur." (I am in her heart.)
Amaya is misty, "Yes, yes you are."
We're quiet for a time, sip of cocktail, refresh glasses of wine. The chicken and baked beans are heating in the oven, beets and onion chilling in the refrigerator marinating in vinegar and oil. Boule warming in the second oven. Dasha and I put it together, and lay platters on the table.
Chloe, "Smells heavenly, I have to have a hunk of bread, so crusty and warm, yum."
Amaya, "We go into production in two months, Ultra Violet Three, and the end of that series. There's a nice surprise, Matt asked to play the male lead. With Chloe and Matt on the billing, the film will box office stupendously."
"Cripes, he's major motion picture, what did that cost?"
Amaya, "We rescued him, maybe saved his life, he said he would work for scale."
"We can't do that."
Amaya, "Of course not, Nikko offered a million and five points. If our end is fifty million box office after costs he would get two and a half million of it."
"How's that work?"
Nikko, "This is a huge investment for us, fifty million dollar budget, over twice our former commitment. If it does a hundred million box office worldwide, and the subsequent Netflix or Amazon, we only break even. Ultra Violet II did well over a hundred, cost us twenty to make. Our end of that was twenty five million profit. To do well on UV III, we need a two hundred million box office. We make about forty five million over our investment. I had offers to invest, but the cost of outside money is steep. If we take all the risk, we get all the reward. We might lose but the film is not going to do nothing. Like I said, a hundred million will break even, the subsequent licensing will be gravy. A disappointment but not a financial problem."
Amaya, "With Chloe now a star, and Matt another star, my brilliant plot and Childer's directorial sense, we will be better than good. This is my best work, the movie never sits still, there is intrigue, betrayal, nothing is obvious. Bad guys at the beginning turn into good guys at the end and vice versa. Do you think I will let Chloe’s star fade in a dud? Or that I will waste family money on a poor screenplay and sloppy plot? Puh-leeze."
"Where does it take place?"
"That's part of the expense, we will be in LA, then London, then Tokyo, then Beijing. With that many international cities, the worldwide market is a layup. And I make the Chinese look good for once, the film institute there is slobbering all over themselves for more time in China."
Zi, "Gee Amaya, when did you have time for all this?"
Amaya looks at Dasha, "When I was alleged to be talking to my computer according to the bossy Belarusian."

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