The work is in a borough called Norristown, twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia. Amaya wants to drive us, she loves driving, I'm happy to ride. We take Oceane along, she should see more of the world than the apartment. Of course the girl isn't part of the refocusing, Janah and I will handle the dirty work. Chloe and Amaya will stay with Oceane while we do it, which is why we booked at the Ritz Carleton in Philadelphia. Norristown is only thirty thousand, they have more to do in the city.
We drive to Norristown first, it's only a hundred mile drive from Manhattan and we want to see the target's place in person, ride the area, think over approaches. That takes an extra hour, we arrive at the hotel at one, rooms are ready, we have luggage sent up, go in search of lunch.
The hotel restaurant is 10 Arts, while we study the short menu, Janah asks Amaya, "What are you and Oceane doing while we take care of the project?"
"We are within two miles of three museums, The Philadelphia Art Museum, the Rodin Museum and The Barnes Foundation. There is a surrealist exhibit at The Philadelphia, Rodin is sculpture, Barnes is a collection of masters, Cezanne, Modigliani, Rousseau, Renoir, Picasso among others. Oceane will get a peek at a variety of styles. There is also a medical museum, the Mutter, with lots of bones, equipment and body parts."
"I'd like to see the surrealists, maybe we can go this afternoon. Sounds like you can chew up tomorrow easily enough."
Lunch is good, it is a Ritz-Carlton after all, burgers for Chloe and Amaya, Janah and Oceane have roasted pear and kale salad and grilled mushrooms. I order oysters on the half shell, to our surprise Oceane tries one and likes it, so I get a second order for her. My main course is trout, she smiles after a taste, I lop off a third and put it on her plate.
We drive down Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the museum, visit Salvador Dali and three dozen other surrealists.
Oceane studies each, lingers on some, others she glances at and moves on.
We have afternoon tea in one of the museum's restaurants, this one called simply The Cafeteria, Amaya asks, "How did the work feel to you?"
We are learning how she understands things, how they feel to her, not what she thinks about them.
"Magical, some cool, others frozen, some warm, others hot. I can't touch them, I would have felt more of what the artist was feeling."
Amaya, "When you touch something, you know how it is feeling?"
Oceane looks puzzled, "Of course," she touches Amaya's arm, "you are confused, interested."
"You may see that in my face."
Oceane smiles, "That too," she takes a final bite of cupcake, nicely stacked with chocolate icing, then finishes off my berry custard.
Janah, "Help me understand. Objects don't feel, but if they were created by someone who does feel, you feel what that person was feeling when she created it, is that more like it?"
Oceane, "If they made it, I get a sense of how they felt about it. If I could touch it, the sense is stronger."
Janah, "What if you touch something made by a machine?"
"If somebody touched it, I can tell how they felt when they did."
Cripes, she must buzz with feelings, no wonder she doesn't retain information.
Chloe, "You touch all kinds of things other people have touched, are you filled up with feelings all the time?"
"I don't remember them, I only have the feeling when I feel it, not forever. It's like a...," she can't find the word, her fingers scrunch together and burst open.
"It comes and goes in a flash, a second."
She smiles, finishes her tea, "If I want it to. I don't have to feel it at all."
Janah, "Last question, you know how they felt, do you also feel how they felt?"
"I only know how they felt. When those people used to play with me, I felt them, um...excited, but I felt their feeling, not mine, I wasn't excited."
I mental Amaya and Janah, Chloe doesn’t mental, Time to let it slide.
Chloe is a Sensitive, like Zi. They read auras, know a person’s mental state and can read intent. Mentaling is talking without words, seeing through another’s eyes, hearing what they hear. Janah, Nikko and I mental with each other. I mental with Amaya separately, and with the twins separate from that. Janah and Nikko don’t mental with Amaya or the twins. Chloe and Zi don’t mental with any of us, not much point when they can read us in their own way. It’s complicated but tremendously helpful in our work.
Amaya, "Want to continue through the museum, or enough for now?"
Oceane will do more if we wish, go to the hotel if we wish, scale Mt Everest if we wish. We decide to tour the rest of the place, we're here now, Janah and I won't get to do it tomorrow. We sort of lucked into the day, it's a Wednesday and the museum, which normally closes at five, is open until quarter to nine. We stay until six thirty, Amaya takes us back to the hotel.
We've been either driving or out all day, time for showers, Chloe and Amaya have a drink. I surf the neighborhood and find a restaurant, Rose Tattoo. It's eclectic, Janah and Ocean have goat cheese and roasted beet salad, mushroom ravioli. I have seared scallops, Chloe goes for baby back ribs and Amaya a filet. Our drinkers polish off a bottle of Domaine Glasnier, a French cabernet. It's all quite tasty, give it a shot if you're in the neighborhood.
We sort of watch a movie in the room, then Chloe, Amaya and Oceane go to their room, Janah and I crash and burn in ours.
Up and out early, I'm driving a standard sedan supplied by Transportation. We took our Escalade down, just changed out the plates and switched to fake registration under Amaya's travel name. The sedan I'm driving now is registered to Susan Sutton from North Carolina, the name on my driver's license. We never do this work without disguise and fake paper.
In the early days, Social Skills teams faced down the target, used as much physical persuasion as required to get his focused attention, thus the term refocusing. We change their focus from angry self gratification to the consequences of abusive behavior. We do that by applying our own abusive behavior. The kind of people the Society sends us after are not persuaded by talk, not by threat, not even by the legal system. As long as they can intimidate their victims, they keep playing the game. They only understand physical violence, we speak their language. After Dr. and Mrs. Epstein retired, the Society became us. Janah runs the extensive network of contacts, they point us to abusers, we help them with interdepartmental battles. We have contacts in every federal agency, many state agencies, all major cities.
They need red tape cut, we get it cut, we need information on a target, we get information on a target. If one of our Social Skills teams runs into difficulty with authorities, Janah makes a call or two, difficulties disappear. One hand washing the other is the reason the Society works. Social workers, emergency room docs, attorneys, frustrated DAs, cops, anyone who knows of an abuser dodging the system all talk to their colleagues. Eventually, a Society contact hears about it. We vet the situation, see if it's real. If it is, people like me, Nikko, Zi, Chloe, the twins, go find the asshole and fix him. It's not always a him, but it usually is.
In this case, Surveillance gave us video footage and photographs of the target's home, his office, his car. Our researchers dug into his phone, his bank and brokerage accounts, mortgage and credit cards. We know his date of birth, social security number, the cvc codes on his cards, his email address, medical records, porn sites he prefers, his mother's maiden name and the name of his first pet.
His name is Sylvester Nicholas, goes by Syl. He's a financial planner, has his own shop, six employees, four other planners, girl who does admin, a receptionist-utility girl. You know, answer the phone, bring coffee, call for lunch, chat up clients. Syl is a workout junkie, can't fault him for that, I'm likely worse than he is. He's into boxing, think he'd get enough punching without needing to punch his wife, but there it is.
Mrs. Nicholas is apparently incapable of walking down stairs without landing face first, can't open a car door without bashing her cheek, slips on icy sidewalks, trips over carpet runners, can't get in or out of the shower without falling down. All documented on various emergency room reports. Either the woman is a menace to herself, or is being menaced by someone. Two domestic disturbance calls resulted in nothing, the screams neighbors heard were just an overly loud movie on TV.
Surveillance, however, breached his home security, planted cameras and recorded Sylvester doing grievous bodily harm to the Mrs. Since we illegally entered his domicile and surreptitiously recorded his brutality, none of it is admissible as legal evidence. Unfortunately for Syl, it's admissible in our court, and he’s been found guilty as charged. Six counts of asshole in the first degree, punishable by me.
The Society learned the hard way that refocusing the jerk then approaching the abused didn't always turn out for the best. Once in a while, despite the offer of free relocation, jobs if needed, ongoing monitoring of the abuser, women just wouldn't pull out. The Society changed tactics. Now we approach the victim, talk over the options, we have former victims talk to them, reassure them we handle it fully and completely. If they agree to leave, we go to work. By the time we're done with our target, victims are gone. If we can't get agreement beforehand, we walk away. Some folks prefer the certainty of misery rather than the uncertainty of starting over.
Syl is at his office, we walk in, there's a small reception area, the receptionist is gone. I take the liberty of going down the hall. Turns out there's a lunch meeting, sandwiches spread around, five people only. Syl, the admin lady, receptionist and two others. they look like financial types, suits, styled hair on one, the other is older and balding. Syl is holding forth on something, he's talking about the 'team,' everybody has to be on a team these days. Wonder if they have a nickname and jerseys?
I barge in, Janah behind me, she shuts the door. Shy of busting a sealed window, nobody can leave.
Syl, "Can I help you? We're in a meeting."
"Yeah, I can see that Sylvester. I'm going to show a movie, a documentary, your team will be totally absorbed in the subject, it's all about you, Sylvester."
He's not sure what's happening, tries leading his team, "I go by Syl, and you have no business here," he stands grabs me by the arm, tries to point me to the door.
I break his wrist.
He takes a swing with his functioning fist, I catch it in mid-punch and make it dysfunctional as well. The owl gave me his grip, might as well use it.
Phones come out, Janah says, "Phones on the table, don't touch them or I will make them as dysfunctional as Sylvester's hands."
The financial professionals are frozen, so is admin, the only one with the courage to speak up is receptionist.
"What's going on, is this a robbery, why are you beating up Syl?"
Syl must be very special to receptionist, she's holding him protectively. Appears she does more than go for coffee, snug short skirt, fitted blouse, heels. I'd do her myself, but I don't do girls that do boys. Like Starship Enterprise, I go where no man has gone before.
"Let's watch the documentary, gather round, I'm not going to hurt you, I'll show you why I hurt Sylvester."
Click on my IPad, Syl is beating the crap out of Mrs. Nicholas, backhand across the jaw, punch to the gut, busts her nose. She's cringing and screaming, he's doing the usual litany of insults, 'stupid cunt,' 'I told you..,' blah blah. It's really quiet, four deer in the headlights, Syl is staring at the floor.
Receptionist has an epiphany, she's not hanging on to Sylvester anymore, backs away from him, "You fucking asshole!"
"Kind of what I thought. You're a good looking girl, don't date married men, there's no shortage of men, they're like fleas. Okay, back to the matter at hand. Sylvester," I grab his styled hair, he resembles American Psycho, "you are done beating up women. You can go to the gym and beat up all the men you want. Be a while before your hands work, maybe you can concentrate on conditioning until they're better."
He looks up at me, eyes narrow, starts to say something, I rearrange his nose, "Don't even Sylvester, Stallone you ain't and he couldn't take me either. Pay close attention, I don't repeat myself. Your wife is gone. You won't look for her. You won't do jack. If you do, our documentary goes viral. As a matter of fact, it's playing on your company website right now. Oh, and you've been locked out, it's going to play there forever."
"Fuck that, you can't..."
I use a flat hand to pop an eardrum, must really hurt, Syl screams and cries, I smell urine, yuck.
"I said listen, if I want your opinion, I’ll beat it out of you. You will turn over the business to these people," I wave vaguely at the 'team', we've sucked your accounts dry, the house is in your wife's name now, has been for a month. She's selling it. Your stuff is gone, no reason for you to go back there. If you do, you run afoul of the restraining order."
I turn to the others, "Your website is screwed, but we've taken all of you off it, no smiling profile pics, no bios, you're gone. One of you," I look at the other American Psycho, "knew about Sylvester. You knew because his wife told you while you were taking advantage of her vulnerability by screwing her," I look at the others, "the rest of you need to join a different team."
Receptionist, "Two assholes, I am so gone."
"I don't know much about the two who aren't here, you can figure out if you want to start up together. The securities industry has a rule, know your customer. You might want to add, know your colleagues.”
Back to Syl, "Sylvester, you will be monitored, we like to keep in touch, our rule is know your psychopaths. Step out of line, I send one of my associates. They aren't as user friendly as I am, you'll be financial planning out of a cardboard box. Homeless people need trusted guidance regarding their financial future, you'll be their go-to guy."
Janah opens the door, "Meeting adjourned," we leave a still stunned audience of financial professionals and one spunky blond.
Driving back to the hotel, Janah says, "That rocked along nicely."
"We have the luxury of sneak attack. They have no idea we're coming. One minute the abuser is in charge of his domain, the next, he's got nothing but busted body parts. Must be rather a shock."
We're back at the hotel for two thirty, geez, nice duty, sit around the Ritz Carlton; maybe not, I check in with Amaya, All done, where are you? Must be Rodin, I see sculpture.
I followed along, almost too simple.
Simple is best, bully abusers aren't like Shadows, once we confront them, they tend to fold.
Particularly if you break a wrist and crush a hand. In any case, Oceane is unimpressed with Rodin, she senses little emotion in his work. My own view is that he was an accomplished technician, no small achievement, but I see no vitality in his sculpture, we are moving on to the Barnes. Do you want me to pick you up?
We can walk over, it's minutes from here.
Meet in the entrance lobby, trail along behind Oceane while she peruses the masters. This is more to her taste, she studies the works, doesn't appear to have a favorite, but she spends more time with paintings of people than with landscapes. The broken up angular faces of Picasso draws her attention, the distorted serious faces of the blue period are of particular interest.
Amaya asks Ocean, "You seemed to be drawn to Picasso, what did you feel?"
"Which one was Picasso?"
Cool, she's unimpressed by the name, only in the expression on the canvas.
Amaya, "The one with broken up faces, and some of the ones in monochrome, kind of blue."
"He was not happy, but he was happier after the blue ones, he was unhappy a lot, mad."
"Mad like angry?"
Beats me, what I know about the great artists you can put in a thimble, with a teaspoon of water left over.
Janah, "He lived in troubled times, the Spanish Civil War, his friend committed suicide, then he went to France and his mood improved with the addition of a model-girlfriend. Along came World War One, Picasso became a Communist. Didn't stop him from becoming extremely wealthy. You're right, he was a complicated man."
Amaya, "How does the art feel to you?"
"Some have feelings, some are just paintings, there is no feeling to them."
Amaya, "Which ones do you like?"
Oceane, "I don't know, I can only tell the ones that have emotion from the ones that do not. Some are meant to sell for money, others no. Even the one you call Picasso, some are himself, some are not."
Amaya, "He did them to sell, to make money."
Oceane, "I don't know why he painted those, but it wasn't something he felt, it was just painting."
We walk to the Mutter Museum, it turns out to be a study in gruesome, like a circus sideshow. Still, Oceane doesn't flinch at the misshapen faces, conjoined torsos, giant and dwarf skeletons. We spend a bit over an hour and decide a return to more ordinary superficiality is in order.
At the hotel, Amaya asks for a sensory update on what we'd seen at the Mutter, Oceane, "I don't get any feeling from it. I can't touch the bodies, I can't feel what they felt."
Janah, "I wonder if you would get the last thing they felt? Just before they died, I mean. When you touch someone, you get what they feel at that moment, right?"
Oceane, "I guess so, they feel happy, sad, upset, mad, a lot of it shows in their faces, anyone can see it. I can tell if they feel something besides what their face says, and if I touch them it's stronger. When Amaya fusses at Dasha she looks mad, but I touch her and she is full of caring, she isn't really angry."
Of course, we all know that Amaya's blustering is dramatics, none of us would ever take it at face value, particularly not Dasha. The twins are impervious to threats, shouts, any other nastiness targets tell them rolls right off. They don't get angry, feel insulted, embarrassed or humiliated. They came to us that way, it's coincidental that the rest of us are pretty much the same. People's opinions are of no consequence, never let someone else decide what you think of yourself. If you’re like most people, you berate yourself quite sufficiently, self sadism.
We spend two hours meandering, let Oceane soak up something besides the apartment at home, take time for tea.
I check in with Dasha, Did you follow?
Da, you mash up hand gud, you will come home now Dahfoney.
Leaving early tomorrow, be home before lunch. You had tea?
We work at office until four, tea at home after, tonight we will go to Ultra Violet.
Enjoy, thank you for looking after things. I would drive home tonight but Oceane is getting more engaged with the world, you and Amaya have been good for her.
"he ees gud girl, doesn't bother anyone, happy for life wiz fahmahley. We haf cocktail now, you will come home tomorrow.
She logs out of my head, a day away and I miss her staring up at me, serious demeanor, a blink of her grey blues. I can be in her head and it's great, but better to have her in front of me, to stroke her soft hair, kiss the satiny cheek, hear her in the next room muttering to herself.
Janah smiles, "None of us do as well apart as together. Strange, with all the mentaling we still prefer to be in each other's presence."
"It's like talking on the phone without the phone, better than nothing, not the same."
Our evening is nicely mundane, we forgo fancy and pick up pizza, movie in Amaya and Chloe's room. Oceane lost her clothes when we returned, our nude nymph is curled into Amaya on the couch. Janah, Chloe, and I on the floor with pillows and a comforter, a forgettable something about greed on Wall Street. Hypocritical I suppose from a family with a billion in stocks and bonds, but there it is. It's not like we do insider trading or screw investors, market goes up, we do well, market gets trashed, we lose like everyone else.
Yawning, Janah and I go to our room, do describably nasty girl lust things but I won't describe them here, use your own indescribably nasty imagination.
Morning shows up, we skip formal breakfast, check out and stop at a doughnut shop, pick up a selection, coffee, diet sodas, I know, diet soda and doughnut, the great rationalization. Make haste to Manhattan. Oceane generally eats like a health fanatic, but she makes an exception for doughnuts and cupcakes. We got lucky, the place has really good ones, fluffy texture, enough glaze to add a succulent sweet hit without being submerged in sugar.
Oceane is on her second. I'd worry about it, but she swims a thousand miles a week and is concrete hard, I'd be wasting worry.
Amaya looks over at her in the passenger seat, "I see doughnuts feel good."
Oceane smiles, no matter what you say to her, she smiles, "The chocolate on top is the best, the twisted ones. I like to pull them apart," she demonstrates, hands Amaya a piece.
Amaya hesitates, she's a calorie hawk, Oceane pushes it to her, Amaya sighs and takes it, "They are delightful, maybe one more little hunk," Oceane gives her the round end, that's the best part.
She chews and watches Amaya bite into the shared piece, "If I become a fat slug, it is your fault little fish."
Oceane has turned her attention to the view out the window, takes her IPhone out and plugs in earbuds. Why she's fascinated by isochronic tones is a mystery, she discovered them because that's what Eloise plays in the workshop. I got fond of it because it's not intrusive, there are no lyrics, there's no voice, only digital sound. If it enhances cognition, or aligns chakras, or helps you sleep, great, I can't testify to any of that. Give it a shot, maybe you'll unlock your creative genius. Or maybe it's a corporate plot to instill obedience, as if average sheeple citizens aren't obedient enough already. When you can get people to do your bidding for minimum wage, you have about all the obedience you need.
The drive passes quickly enough, Amaya is a skilled driver, she Nikko and I took a tactical driving course at the Bondurant School in Phoenix.
"Amaya, I think it's time for us to go to for a refresher at Bondurant, want to go back to Phoenix?"
"Absolutely, soon as the film releases. In the fall when the weather has gone from desert blister to moderate."
I kill time on the ride looking over possible dates, then mental Nikko, who replies that she's up for it. While we do that, maybe I'll put the twins in the tactical course.
"Janah, any interest?"
"I'll leave the car chases to you, besides, if we all go, somebody has to be with Oceane."
Dasha, we're going to Phoenix in the fall for race driving class. It would be good if you and Daria took the tactical driving course, but it's up to you.
Da, we will drive tacticals, you will arrange. You are home soon?
A half hour, I need a coffee fix. I'll let you know when we hit Manhattan.
I ask Janah, "After lunch, I'll double check schedules, then sign us up, book a hotel, where'd we stay last time?"
"Royal Palms, but find a place with a killer pool, Oceane will be in sensory heaven."
I fish around, looks like the pool at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess meets the criteria, it's huge, the rooms are nice, ratings superb, I show Janah what I'd found.
"That'll do, they have a SPA of course."
"Yoga, every kind of wrap, massage, aromatherapy, acupressure known."
"Then it will really do, I may try everything."
Ah, home, Dasha waits for me to kiss her cheek, turns for me to get the other one, Chloe doubles Daria. I'll unpack the few things later, coffee break now.
"No work today?"
Dasha, "You and Vesnushki are home from treep today, you will want to see us, not all day at office."
"Good decision," she'll never say they want to see us, it has to be the other way round, besides she's right, we do want to see them.
"How are things at Ultra Violet?"
"Gud, Mariella ees gud manager, food ees right, kitchen ees clean, restaurant ees busy, full reservation for three month, also Sunday brunch. Lunch ees also full, Daria can tell from receipts."
Ultra Violet doesn't take lunch reservations, first come and all that. It's why we added the upstairs bar, a comfortable place for customers to wait for a table. We don't do takeout. Our reputation is for fresh, crisp, what's hot is hot, what's not is not. Takeout loses something in the wait and we prefer not to have our roast beef po-boys sitting around getting soggy and cold while a meeting drones on in one or another corporate mausoleum.
"Glad to hear it. Let's make arrangements for Phoenix, we'll need two for tactical, three for race."
In an hour, we have four suites booked, classes and a private flight scheduled. After a light lunch, I unpack, Janah's downstairs on a laptop, I chill in our room. Dasha comes in, she's abandoned clothing, yummy. I abandon mine and we go at each other with abandon.
After a breathing break, Dasha says, "We make gud sex Dahfoney."
Understatement. Oceane comes in, she hops on the bed and squeezes between us. She's not here for sex, my age for intimacy lines are loosely drawn, but not that loosely, she's only eight.
Oceane, "Feels nice, I'm sleepy, can I take a nap?"
Sounds good, we do and it's an hour and a half before I blink awake. Oceane is on her side, curled into Dasha, I get up to refresh, Oceane comes in the bathroom. She touches my back, the other slides up my leg. Despite how it sounds, she's only after my mood, she says, "You and Dasha are happy."
"Yes we are."
Dasha appears, hugs me, face up for a full on kiss, Oceane watches. She's been abused by a man and a woman, I wonder how she feels about this.
She doesn't say, I don't ask, she smiles, "Swim."
"Tea in an hour or so if you want to come down."