Chapter Fifty Three III

Music takes us out of the actual
and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder
as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We finish and head to the apartment. Everyone needs a rest, even Chan, who’s been living the full bore temple life. When we hit the apartment I put on quiet Chinese instrumental music, very low, just a whisper, turn down the lights, click on my recent acquisitions, flameless candles, and stretch out with the others on the mats and pillows. Nikko and I curl up together, as if on cue, we sleep for over three hours. I wake first, followed shortly by Chan and Nikko, Janah begins to move as well.
I thought about making a big pot of strong green tea, with a bag of Tazo Wild Sweet Orange, which may be the best tasting tea in the universe. If you mix it with Tazo Awake, you get to Nirvana early. I change my mind, take out my mortar and pestle, add loose green tea, break open the bags of Orange and mash the leaves into a powder.
I bring the urn of hot water and my utensils.  I’d decided to perform a formal tea ceremony, so pull out the best china cups and tea pot in honor of Chan’s visit. It didn’t matter that it’s a Japanese ceremony for our Chinese brother. To us, there are no nationalities present. Nationalities are small, restrictive; we don’t like enclosures, captivity is far too confining, like tight psychological underwear.
Lacy knocks, surprised and delighted to see Chan. She sees I’m in a kimono.
“What’s going on, am I interrupting?”
“Of course not, please sit, tea will be ready in a moment.”
Lacy sits at the low tea table with the others, cross legged on pillows. I kneel, snap my cloth towel, clean the cup and hand it to the guest of honor, our big little brother. He takes it and turns it in his hand to admire the delicate beauty, then passes it along, the others do the same. I whisk the powdered tea in the cup until it has a nice foam across the top, then pass out sugar sweets to offset the bite of the tea.
I pour the tea and pass the cup to Chan. He sips, wipes it with a spotless linen cloth provided and passes it to Lacy. She repeats the ritual and the cup goes to Janah then Nikko. I clear everything away and join them.
Lacy, “My that’s beautiful. Thank you for allowing me to participate.”
“It was an abbreviated version, no charcoal burner. I did incense, I wanted to welcome our brother formally. There’s lots of tea left, we can each enjoy a cup.”
Nikko rises, “Excuse me one moment please.”
She returns and sits on her knees next to the table. She has a shamisen, the traditional geisha musical instrument, a box shape on one end, thirty inch long neck and three strings.
“Mistress, may I be allowed to play for our guests?’
I mental Janah while nodding yes to Nikko, Did you know she had that thing?
Janah, No idea. She has many layers, which she will unveil when she chooses. It is her gift to us.
Playing it is often like jazz, improvised with the feeling of the moment. She puts no words to her music, rather plays according to her heart.
Lacy breaks first, tears stream silently, then Janah and I. Chan is silent, but his eyes are closed, the sound of the music taps deeply into his psyche.
Nikko finishes, stands, bows and returns the instrument to its case.
Janah, “Nishiko, that was beyond description. Your music resonates in the core of my being.”
We are quiet. Everyone felt what Janah had expressed, there is no reason to say more. After a quarter hour in total silence, I lean over and kiss Nikko.
Chan, “Good to have a big family. I have been privileged to find another beautiful sister, with extraordinary martial arts skills and unique musical ones.”
He bows to Nikko.
Nikko acknowledges his compliment by lowering her eyes, “My brother has much to teach his new sister, it is I who am fortunate.”
Lacy, “I see they have crossed the cultural divide.”
“There are no differences. Well, one’s a boy, one’s a girl. Temperamentally they’re twins, their skills are diametrically opposed as you can imagine. That makes for perfect yin and yang, one balances the other. We travel in a day or so. If the siblings get along well for a week or more of close contact, we may be on to something.”
Lacy, “Ah, anything I need to look after while you’re out?’
“Water the plants please, only a sip every other day. We may be gone longer this time, actually we will be gone longer this time, the usual rules.”
“If it comes up, you’re at a retreat studying and teaching and will be home soon.”
“That’s us, the only other thing is take care of the moms.”
“I’ll find something to distract them. I’ll yoga K-mom to death. Sis and C-mom, well, something will come up.”
Janah, “Good. The fact that it’s likely extra time and the addition of Chan, you can guess there might be more concern.”
Lacy, “The size of him, there should be less concern, I wish you’d take him all the time.”
“Won’t be long. You’re likely going to get a new tenant in the space that’s left.”
Lacy grins, “I’m delighted. Surrounded by this crew, if I can’t sleep it’s my own fault. I get Janah protection by happenstance of being a neighbor. I’m not going to question my good fortune.”

Chapter Fifty Four III

How would you like your toast…black, or ashes?
Susan Sylk

Now it’s later, our pack heads to the condo for Sis’ eclectic buffet. Spinach artichoke dip, chicken salad, shrimp salad, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, half a dozen cheeses, three kinds of bread, white bean soup, minestrone soup, Waldorf salad and a selection of pastries.
Susan, “I thought this was enough for a taste test, if it’s good, then we can rely on them for things I didn’t try. They have various hot dishes, leaning towards Italian, some American basics, baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, even fried fish. Gives me lots of options, if they’re a keeper, I can use the free time.”
“What time are you freeing? You start cooking?”
Susan gives me a questioning look, “What’s cooking? Oh, that stuff you do over by the stove? No, silly, the time I used to spend telling Chris what I felt like eating. Now she can just pop by the deli, or our Italian place, or Empire Szechuan, or the Village Diner or Mr. Vitale’s cart.”
“Do you even heat up the croissants in the morning?”
Susan, “Not unless you want them crunchy.”
Chris, “Nikko takes care of it. Susan’s usually had breakfast long before I get up.”
“What a brat.”
Nikko, “Sis is busy teaching me high finance. Investments, real estate. No time for standing at the stove. Family has a lot of business interests, more important than hot bread.”
Susan sticks out her tongue at me.
I giggle, “Student will teach her instructor soon. She will be a financial genius and a kendo master. I am in awe of her skill with the sword.”
Chris, “She’s really getting good?”
“She’s in a separate class. I mean we’re both still learning. It’s like I know the steps to the dance, and I can do them. My steps are still mechanical. Nikko owns the dance. Her father doesn’t say anything. His eyes can’t hide his delight.”
I giggle again, “I still get the stony stare.”
We wipe out the spinach dip, then work on the rest of the dishes. The verdict is in, this deli will definitely make the cut.
“Good job, Sis. I think the devastation we created pretty much answers your question.”
Susan, “Good, chalk up another Sis doesn’t cook spot. Next time I’ll get fried fish for your father.”
Janah, “And macaroni and cheese, I’m a mac and cheese porky.”
“Cherry turnovers are tasty, crispy pastry dough sprinkled with powdered sugar,” I share a brownie with Nikko, who eats a nibble of the corner, Janah splits a turnover and a brownie with Chan.
“We haven’t seen Sonia in a while. Janah’s talked to her on the phone, still seeing, I guess that’s the wrong word, talking with Black.”
Susan, “She’s at school, when she comes home she drops by for a bit, goes to see Black, she calls every couple of weeks, we swap e-mail. She’s got one year left, studying counseling, straight A’s, and she volunteers at a crisis counseling center. I’m pretty sure she’ll be back here, in the area, maybe Brooklyn. She’s undecided about children, she sees so many now."
"What about kids? she say anything?"
Black wants whatever Sonia wants.”
“Well, then it’s up to you Chan.”
Chan looks at me blankly, “See he can’t wait to get started, won’t be long now, Daphne the Second. I’ll be an aunt, then she will grow up and have her family and I’ll be a great aunt. I’ll be a great, great aunt, with all the kids and their kids, Black and Sonia, Chan and Ms. Chan. Three kids each, who each have three, let’s see, six nieces and nephews and 18 great nieces and nephews.  I’ll take a month just to prepare Christmas dinner. C-mom we’re going to be busy in the kitchen, we’ll need a much bigger condo. David, kids, I’m not holding my breath, he’s the studious one. That’s cool, first, a beautiful niece to spoil. Okay little brother, got your mission? See your life unfold before your very eyes.”
Chan looks at Nikko, she shrugs, “Mistress lives in a world all her own.”
It is time to get to bed, I help Chris clear everything, get the dishwasher loaded, pots cleaned and the few leftover cookies put in the jar.
On our way out Susan asks, “When are you leaving?”
 “Day after tomorrow, C-mom has the teaching covered, if a day or two of Chapmans has to get skipped, the girls know to practice on their own. There are Chapmans grown black belts now.”
Susan, “We send over advanced belts from our dojang already, every class has a qualified instructor. You guys do what you do. Perhaps with Chan the meditation will go easier.”
“We’ll be back underfoot before you know it, take care of Chris and K-mom.”
Susan, “I’m on it, see you when.”
Back at the apartment, I find a special on the samurai culture, a PBS rerun we’d never seen. We spread out of the mat to watch, then sleep.
This morning, after breakfast, it’s time to begin packing up for the next day’s travel. The plane leaves at nine-thirty, we'll be in Sacramento in the early afternoon. Travel up to just north of San Francisco, a sleepy suburb just outside Santa Rosa. Sacramento is one hundred miles from the target site, just far enough away. Seattle or Salt Lake City is too much driving, both cities eight hundred miles from San Francisco, adding a long day of travel.  For precautionary reasons, we don’t want to fly into San Francisco or Oakland. Probably overkill, but that’s how we do it.
The Society flies us first class, there are cars in terminal parking, one van and one standard mid size. Our names don’t show up on any rental paperwork, nor do they show up on any hotel registry. The airline tickets are in our various travel names, with valid passports, driver’s licenses, even for Chan, who has only a foggy notion of how to drive. In another couple of hours we are unpacking at the Vintner’s Inn outside Santa Rosa, a pricey and exclusive 44 room hotel. We have an upstairs suite, Chan a balcony room next door.
“This beats heck out of our good friends at Hampton.”
Janah, “It’s also three times the price honey, this little bungalow is four hundred bucks a night. Chan’s cheap, only a couple hundred. This room would be six to eight hundred closer to San Francisco.”
“If I dress up Nikko and tell them she’ll hang in the bar and chat up customers, maybe they’ll knock off some of the charge.”
“Or I could dress you both up and they’ll pay us to stay here.”
“Well, we’d miss the refocusing fun. And Nikko would probably take out some wine snob for being too prissy, there’d be a scene and anyone Nikko didn’t hospitalize, Chan would. All in all, best we let the Society pay the freight and do what we came here to do.”
Janah, “This is really nice, wow, big plush bed, lots of room, great view, menu’s a little limited, we can manage. Look, when you guys have the target’s perspectives freshened, pass by and pick me up, I’ll probably be getting a massage or something.”
I laugh, “Believe me, if I could talk you into it, that’s exactly what we’d do.”
Nikko, “We need to feed little brother.”
Janah, “Me too, I think it’s best we don’t all show up at the restaurant. You two figure something out from room service, I’m going to review the maps and make a plan to start stalking Lingman and his buddies in the morning.”
“I’ll order snacks and tea, you guys feed and rest, Nikko and I are going for a walk, Chan can stay with you. Later we can do a dinner thing off the menu, or maybe drive around and get a feel for things.”
“Good. See you later.”
While Janah tries to figure out an approach for this refocusing, Nikko and I walk the grounds and surrounding area. We’d been on a plane or in a car for what seems like forever. Walking around takes the stiffness out. Chan will do whatever, rearrange the furniture, bench press Janah, something.
Nikko, “Do you think this will be particularly dangerous?”
“We have the advantage on these things. Targets don’t know we’re coming, it’s why we can usually just barge in, catch them unaware. Janah’s talking it over with Chan.”
“What does Chan know? That doesn’t sound right, I mean what does he know about this particular situation?”
“Nothing, which is why Janah’s talking to him, he’s got no blinders.”
“Ah so, as mysterious Orientals are assumed to say by round eye gaijin.”
“Glad I’m not one. Although I don’t recall saying ‘ah so’ either, what’s it supposed to mean?”
“I see or oh, I see. Japanese don’t like it. It’s like when whites say Indians always say ‘how.’ It’s not so much a slur, just patronizing.”
I tease, “Ah so.”
Nikko giggles, something she seldom does, except with Sis or alone with me. She thinks I’m goofy, she can’t help herself.
“I love the sound of your laugh, and I love that you only laugh at me. On the other hand, Janah laughs at everything and I love that too, go figure.”
“I get silly with Susan. She’s too adorable, I can’t resist. You and she are the same in almost everything, except cooking. Sis can’t boil water.”
“No,  I’d be the same, except Miss Alva taught me, then she encouraged me because I put all her recipes in my laptop. I think Sis had one of the first laptops ever made and I used it all the time for recipes. I still have them. I’ve made that stuff so much, I could cook it in my sleep.”
“Sis likes her corporate security work too much to worry about cooking. If you had any interest in it, you could be rich like Sis by opening a restaurant. The family would put up the money in a heartbeat, so would my family.”
“That’s a nice thought. Maybe when we’re all too old to go out and beat up jerks we’ll open one for our retirement. Like Mrs. Fong, a place to hang out and harass our grandchildren.”
“We’re all lesbians, where we gonna get grandchildren?”
“Black and Sonia maybe, Chan and a player to be named later. Who knows what David will do? I guess I mean nieces and nephews, since they’re our brothers and sisters.”
 “And Chan, where will he find a mate?”
“Janah will take care of it. When it’s time, a companion will appear.”
Nikko tilts her head, “How can Master J do that?”
“How does J do anything? She decides and it happens. I haven’t a clue. Janah’s management, I’m labor. She starts thinking something needs to happen and it happens. A long time ago, she needed me and there I was. How could I trade that for anything, any other possible life?”
Nikko, “True. I like being her worker bee, compensation is unbelievable, all benefits, hardly any work.”
We return to the room, join Janah and Chan on the balcony, “I haven’t felt any plan in my head, you guys just eat and nap or what?’
Janah, “Basically. I can’t find a hole, a place to insinuate ourselves. Chong had a family he kept separated from his illegal business, he tried to be involved in the community, he had kids. This guy has no visible ties. Surveillance has his movements down, none of them involves a lady friend, a boyfriend, any social contacts of any meaning. They club a little, it’s not a thing they do every week. Ling’s friends, bodyguards, whatever they are, stick with him practically twenty-four seven. There’s girls, no regular girl. These guys have money, they’re attractive enough, dating isn’t a problem. According to Surveillance they don’t date the same woman twice in a row. They seem to have a dozen girls they know, when they decide to go out, three women appear and off they go to San Francisco. Maybe an escort service. They stay at an upscale hotel, rent suites. When in town, they use a car service, no limos, an SUV that can hold several passengers and a driver. They hit a nice restaurant, go to a club, back to the hotel. The girls stay over, get breakfasted, then driven back home. No dates go to the house, just the three guys. There’s a live in housekeeper and cook, an indoor pool. We don’t know the setup of the house, the pool is one of those indoor/outdoor things, the satellite picked it up. There’s a boat they charter occasionally out of Sausalito, nice forty footer, a captain and deckhand. Takes them out fishing, nothing serious, no girls along. It appears to be strictly a pleasure trip. They don’t meet up with anyone, another boat, no mysterious rendezvous. As far as we can tell, they don’t overnight in it. My guess is it’s an alibi. Something is going down in the city and they want to be able to say they weren’t there, with a charter captain’s verification they were out fishing.”
“Doesn’t sound like the boat floats any options. It’s not like we can rent one then pretend to have engine trouble. None of us knows how to fool with boats. It would be a pain to try and meet them socially and get invited on the boat.”
Janah, “We don’t want them close to us for that long. We’d have to be disguised, disguises don’t hold up forever, plus Chan isn’t likely to be one of the guests.”
“Chan, you don’t want a boat ride with some cute extortionists?”
Chan looks at me, his expression unchanged.
“I’ll take that as a no.”
Janah, “Let’s go over their business operation again, maybe Chan or Nikko can see something. Surveillance says they operate pretty much like Chong did, two layers between them and the imports. How they’re shipped around isn’t really our interest. Surveillance says they’re moved in vans. It’s not like trying to smuggle in fifty at a time. That’s why it’s so hard to do any damage to the network. They expect some to get caught, or to bolt on their own.”
Nikko, “We don’t care about the ones here, or what happens when they’re placed?”
Janah, “We don’t want them here, they’re sociopaths. But no, we don’t plan to chase them around. If we get the traffic stopped at the source, this time make a splash in the press, then the feds are going to have to deal with it whether or not some corporation gets it’s feathers ruffled.”
Nikko, “Why doesn’t the Society put the story in the hands of a newspaper and let them run with it?”
“They’re convinced the guys at the top would simply evaporate, all the Feds get are low level nobodies and a few illegals. Too easy to say it was only small potatoes, no big deal, all the usual agency bull. We want it to be plain that it’s more than just gangs making additions to their insanity talent pool.”
Nikko, “How much money is in it?”
“It isn’t millions in hundred dollar bills, they think twenty thousand per. The Society estimates ten to fifteen fresh bodies a month. It’s not megabucks for our three guys, but it’s two hundred thousand a month in small payments. It runs smoothly, our guys don’t touch anything but telephones. They see it as practically risk free. A tax free two million a year with next to no work. If they spend ten or even twenty grand a month on women, hotels and clubs, the rest just piles up. There’s a lot more money in drugs, but it’s dangerous. Lots more trouble with suppliers and dealers. Janah thinks they do it to do it. A taste of the old covert days in the military.”
Janah, “The links that matter are the ones just beneath and above, likely in China. We need our boys to cough up him or them, verify that they’re real people, with proof that can’t be ignored. That means implicate the three targets, and their contacts up the line.”
Nikko, “We moving here?”
“Exactly one of my concerns. This isn’t just get in the door, refocus three guys and go home. We may be here for a week, then back in Manhattan, then back here. I don’t want to hang here too long and get noticed. If we have other planning to do or need further work from Surveillance, then we’ll disappear and come back. The thing isn’t going anywhere.”
Nikko, “People are being hurt in the meantime.”
Janah, “Yes, and that’s unfortunate. If we don’t do this right, then the business might lay low for a while and pick up again like last time. We’d like to put enough heat and light to keep the roaches scattered for a good long while. I made a mistake last time, partially because we didn’t want to involve Chong’s family. We should have found out his connections up river not just the ones downstream. We cut off the head here, not in China.”
 “That had its own problems, Janah. The Chinese would have known Chong had given them up. And would have dealt with him accordingly.”
Nikko, “Ah so.”
“Are you profiling the gaijin?”
Janah, “Witty repartee is fun, somebody needs to think of something.”
I cock my head at her.
Janah grimaces, “I know, I know, that’s my department. I’m trying to do it without having to beat them into submission. We got Chong to quit, his bodyguards only got smacked around a little, nobody got seriously hurt. I’m coming to the conclusion this can’t be that clean.”
“Okay, we’re making a little headway. If the contacts are the same, and there’s no reason the Chinese would have changed that in China, then we need the three local boys to cough up names.”
Janah, “Which means we have to sniff around their movements, check out the house, office and where they hang.”
Nikko, “Where’s the office?”
Janah, “Building in Santa Rosa, part of a warehouse for business supplies. We’re going to look at it now, tomorrow the house. We need to decide where we get the most privacy.”
The office is part of a pre-fab structured steel building, standard industrial, big roll-up door next to a regular door entering the warehouse and office. A metal door exits to a rear alley. Janah peers in, nobody around, no guard, no dogs. It’s just cleaning supplies, insurance probably covers it for theft with only a standard alarm system.
Janah, “I want to see the warehouse when it’s open for business. Surveillance says it’s active in the morning and again between three and five. Things get delivered during the day on a reasonably regular schedule. Fed Ex, UPS, the post office, trucks deliver bulk supplies, smaller vans pick up supplies for the stores. Any of them showing up during a refocusing is a potential problem. I’m going to have to go with the odds. Surveillance timed out all the delivery schedules. Sometimes the targets just get takeout and eat at the office. If they go out, they usually return by one thirty. Things are quiet until after three. UPS makes the only late pickup, once in a while a truck from one of the businesses shows. We can hang out the NO UPS sign. The driver will just keep rolling.”
We decide to watch, something will develop, it always does.

Chapter Fifty Five III

My idea of suburbs is Brooklyn
Daphne Sylk

I’m driving, “Man, I hope I never have to get used to this.”
Nikko, “What?”
“All this driving around, ten miles to a mall, twenty miles to a club, two miles to the dry cleaners for Pete’s sake. All these people do is drive.”
Janah, “That’s the left coast.”
“I’m sticking with the right one.”
Janah, “I’m shocked, who’d a thought?”
Nikko stares out the window, “We are busy, no time for endless riding around.”
Janah rattles off details, “James Lingman, US Army Intelligence, degree in math, MBA from a minor college here in California. Apparently very bright, no brushes with the law, no leftover college associations we could find, not a joiner. He went to school, wasn’t a part of anything. Jeffery Quan has also led a quiet public life, special forces ops, no available service record, at least nothing useful. High school graduate, spent some time in college, no degree. Finally Mr. Jang, Li Jang, special forces, green beret, hand to hand combat specialist, served as a liaison officer in Korea, China and all points Asian. One arrest, assault, back in 2000, charges dropped, nothing since. Don’t know where he hooked up with Lingman, perhaps through Quan. Considering the depth of nothingness in their service records, it could have been anywhere. They did something together that bonded them, we just don’t know what or when. Based on their extortion and strong arm tactics, none of them is a choir boy. While there is no reliable paper trail, all of them are assumed to be capable of assault, torture and murder. This is not your average group of bully boys, makes the Tennessee crowd look like United Way volunteers.”
“So we need to surprise the peetookie out of them or get them to sleep first.”
Janah, “Yes. I want to make sure each of you has read and understood the memo,” she is speaking softly, serious time, “we do not need to demonstrate our skills, this isn’t show and tell. If we can lay these bozos out with drugs, then that’s what we’ll do. I don’t think Lingman is a big deal for any of you. The other two have real world hand to hand, kill or be killed experience. I can tell from what isn’t in their file. Apparently they spent their time in the service nowhere, always just ‘attached to the 5th combat this, or liaison with 2nd battalion that,’ ghosts, reporting to no one who would admit it. That means they did troubleshooting and that means they would have punched Bruce Lee’s clock and eaten Jean Claude’s heart. Hit hard and fast, do not try to impress anyone, do not be subtle or sly. Are you clear?”
Nikko and I nod, Chan looks out the window.
We drive to Lingman’s neighborhood. The houses are big, not mansions, insulated from one another by lots of yard, shrubs, walls. A few places have gated entrances, not many, this isn’t Beverly Hills. Other than a few scattered enclaves, the area is standard suburban, strip malls, budget hotels, fast food brand names. Lingman isn’t trying to impress anyone, if anything, he’s trying to stay low profile, even invisible. The house, the cars, the business, everything, is owned by LJQ Inc. There is no mention of them on Google, not as individuals or the business entity. None of their businesses has a website. They belong to no clubs or other organizations, business or social. The corporate paperwork lists a law firm in San Francisco, not likely to lead to a wealth of information.
Janah, “Okay, we’ve seen what we can see, let's go.”
We pile up in the big room, order room service. The menu is lots of frou-frou food, more name than substance. I manage to put together enough recognizable parts to create dinner. When the waiter leaves, we turn on the television and watch the news, then watch a rental movie, Fearless with Jet Li. Chan had never seen a Jet Li movie, hadn’t seen movies at all, except for the one or two he’d caught when visiting over holidays.
He and his two martial arts sisters occupy ourselves, happily ignoring the illogic of the fight scenes, until Chan asks the inevitable.
Chan, “Why do they do three back flips to get to the guy they want to kill, doesn’t that just waste energy?”
“Yes, it’s incredibly stupid, but it’s a movie, they do it for entertainment value, not sensibility.”
Chan nods sagely, settles in to the movie, content to give up logic for a bit of fun.
Janah ponders what she’s going to do about this refocusing. Nothing is leaping to mind so fast she wonders if she could sort out one non plan from another. She needs the two extras under control. Then get Lingman into a cooperative mood, then collect enough evidence to blow the lid off on this side of the Pacific and shake up the other. All without involving us or the Society in the fallout, with the additional challenge of trying not to kill anyone in the process.
Chill J. Let the wheels spin tonight, something always comes to mind. Come finish the movie with us, it’s not bad actually.
Janah can’t fault with my logic, scoots in behind Chan and he settles back against her, they watch Jet have a far easier time figuring out his end than Janah is having figuring out hers.
I lean over and kiss her, No thinking, you know better, you’re interfering with the brain trying to do its work.
I’m done, thank you angel.

Nikko pulls me into her and kisses my neck in between the action parts. Eventually, Jet does what Jet does. Everyone goes to bed, Chan next door to his room, Janah presumes he’ll pull blankets onto the floor, maybe actually use a pillow. Janah, conversely, has no leftover temple reservations about a bed. She plops down right in the middle of ours. I decide she needs relaxation therapy, so while Nikko and she make out, I objectify Janah. She doesn’t object to my objectification. Geez she’s scrumptious.
The next morning there’s stretching and yoga-lite early. I order a room service breakfast far in excess of what even three girls would order. It involves two waiters and two rolling carts of food. The waiter keeps looking around, there are two girls. Janah stays in the bedroom.
I decide to help them out, “We’re expecting guests. You didn’t think two of us could eat all this did you?”
The waiter says, “I have to admit, we we’re wondering.”
“We have a few actors joining us, Sumo wrestlers. We’re doing a commercial for Toyota. We feed them, then they pick up a Corolla and throw it off a cliff. I don’t know why. We’re just hired to do the shot.”
The waiters nod like it makes perfect sense, it is California. I sign the bill and herd them to the door. Nikko calls Chan, we graze, watch the news, drink coffee and tea while waiting for morning traffic to ease.
Janah wants to see the warehouse during the day, Nikko takes her that way while Chan and I drive to the house to get a good look in daylight. Since I can see what Janah sees and vice versa, it accomplishes two jobs at once, and we don’t need to drive around with four people in the car. There is only the one SUV belonging to Lingman at the warehouse, no other trucks or traffic, the warehouse door is closed. Apparently only Lingman and his buddies are inside.
There’s nothing going on here, can barely see the house. There are two dogs, no motion detectors. We’d have to silence the animals first, then break into a house with an unfamiliar layout, deal with three trained men and who knows what with a live in cook and housekeeper.
You seeing what I’m seeing here?
Now I am. What gives? There’s only the one car. Warehouse shut up for today or what?
Haven’t a clue.
We’ll be there in a bit.
Chan and I pull in down the street from where Janah’s parked.
Janah, This is a gift, no one around. Get your gear, Nikko and I are going to the door and knock. Nikko will put whoever answers to sleep and we’re going in. Remember, down and dirty, no fooling around.
I relay Janah’s message to Chan, I think maybe he responds by blinking, I’m not sure. They get out of the car and head to the warehouse. Janah walks to the entrance door and knocks, Nikko leans against the building. She would appear to be just casually waiting. Surprise would be helpful, not essential. She’s going to dart him with a tranquilizer anyway, it doesn’t matter. Chan and I stay out of range of the exterior camera. We’ll move when Nikko does her thing.
Jeffery Quan comes to the door, doesn’t open it….oops.
An intercom, “What is it?”
Janah starts talking, not vocalizing, just moving her lips. She’s hoping to make him open the door by assuming the intercom is broken. Fortunately the rest of the street is quiet. It works, the door cracks, “Thing must be broken, can I…?”
 Last words, Nikko darts him in the neck, pulls the door fully open and kicks him hard in the chest, the tranquilizer is quick, not immediate. He staggers back and starts to make a fist. Janah catches Quan’s fist in motion, her other hand around Quan’s neck, no blood to his brain, lights out.  
Chan and I fly over the sinking Quan and up the half dozen steps to what appears to be an office. It has big windows overlooking the floor of the half empty warehouse. There are monitors in the office, they’d seen what happened at the front door. Jang and Lingman have guns drawn, Jang almost out the door to the office, Lingman behind him.
Chan is on Jang, the gun skitters across the floor, uses the body to push Lingman back into the office. At the doorway into the office, I hit Lingman in the shoulder with a tranquilizer dart. Chan pushes Jang to the side like he’s weightless. Lingman’s gun goes off, I feel something hot on my ear. Then Nikko is in front of me and a star hits Lingman’s hand, the one holding the gun. He looks down at his hand, his muscles won’t work. Nikko is alongside him, his eyes glaze over, she catches the gun as it falls from his numb fingers. He collapses to the floor.
Janah has Quan tied, takes his gun, searches him for any other weapons, finds nothing until she hits his ankle. There is a sheath, a long blade hunting knife. The other ankle isn’t armed. She giggles about an armed ankle, ties them together snugly with picture wire, then busy with duct tape, shoves a rag in his mouth and tapes it over as well. She doesn’t need to talk to Quan.
She covers his head with a nylon bag, leaves it open at the bottom so he can breathe, then she’s up the stairs.
While Nikko and I are dealing with Lingman, Jang gets to his feet. He turns his head to see a shadow coming for him. His training takes over, he leans slightly and delivers a sharp side kick to Chan’s abdomen. It feels like he’s kicked a concrete wall. He rolls and pulls a knife. Chan stands motionless, hands at his sides. Jang holds his hands in fighting position, the knife in his right, held blade down, cutting edge facing out. Jang is an experienced knife fighter, no waving the blade in his opponent’s face, no talk. Any block with his knife hand will slice Chan’s arm. He can stab, or slash side to side. He approaches Chan slowly, curious that the man doesn’t move, more curious that he pays no attention to the knife at all. Jang takes a couple of jabs with the right to Chan’s head. Still, the young Chinese doesn’t move, hell, his damn eyes don’t flicker. Jang wonders if the man is simply frozen, scared stiff. He charges with a down strike from Chan’s left. The blade is over Chan’s head and should have caught him in the neck, worst case the shoulder or arm had Chan raised his left to defend himself. He doesn’t. He inches back almost imperceptibly as the blade comes down. The instant it flashes past him, he steps forward and drives the heel of his right hand into Jang’s chest. Jang flies across the room like he’s weightless and slams against the wall. The knife actually sticks into the sheetrock. He looks like a cartoon character, an X on the wall. If Chan hit him with any more force, there would have been a hole where the body went through.
“Cool. Let’s wrap him.”
Two minutes later, Jang upstairs looks like Quan downstairs, head covered, gagged, wrists and ankles secured with wire. Maybe the bad boys need to be in the jungle to be more effective. More likely, they need lots more firepower and a softer enemy.
Janah tends to my ear, she carries a mini first aid kit in her pocket on these jobs. I lost a piece of the top where the bullet nicked me. Ears are bleedy things, the side of my neck is coated red. A few drops hit the floor. An actual piece is gone, not just skinned. She pulls out a tube of antibiotic ointment, cleans it first with an antiseptic wipe, covers it with the ointment, the thing is still bleeding. She covers it again with Dermabond, gauze and adhesive tape. It will do for now.
Nikko checks on Quan, Chan drags him around behind the stairs and leans him against the flat concrete wall. He isn’t going to be any threat, he can’t move or speak. For insurance, Chan hog ties him with wire. He puts the “No UPS” sign on the glass, then turns off the lights in the warehouse. Nikko takes the key to Lingman’s car and moves it down the block, out of sight of the warehouse entrance. The place is closed to any casual observer.
Nikko stays on the steps in front of the office; she can see the front door to her left and Quan on the warehouse floor beneath her. The rear door is closed and locked, it has no window.
Janah has Chan position Ling facing the back wall. She sticks a needle into Ling’s arm, sodium pentothal. She lets it circulate, then I start waking him with ammonia caps. A desk lamp behind his head puts his own shadow on the wall. Since his buddies can’t make any noise and we’d disconnected the phones, under the drug he’ll feel like he’s in a dream. Nothing familiar to hang on to, no visual reference point, no sound, only Janah’s voice.
Janah is off to the side, speaks softly and clearly, just loud enough for Lingman to grasp. He is in a hypnotic state, she’s making him comfortable and suggestible. The needle is still in his arm, which is taped to the arm of the chair. If she wants to increase the dose, she only has to push the plunger a bit. They talk back and forth about mundane business matters. When he gets too alert, she taps the plunger. The idea is to get him used to talking, eventually so completely trusting he’ll answer any question she asks. She begins with simple stuff, age, hometown, innocent details about pets, food preferences, hobbies, no pressure questions. Then she moves to business questions about dry cleaning, suppliers, advertising, costs and returns. I’m amazed at what a tidy sum can be earned from cleaning soiled clothes.
Ask him if they intentionally destroy the buttons when they press shirts, or is it accidental.
Janah grins,Maybe later.
Then she learns about ranger training, Janah is dragging up details of stories she’d read, who knows where, about military operations in Asia. She is pretending to be a CIA liaison at the same time Ling enlisted. I smile at the level of detail Janah pulls out of her head about Bangkok, Cambodia, Singapore, and Hong Kong in the 1990’s. Descriptions of remote poppy fields, military contacts, details about streets, shops and bars. She has Ling convinced she was working the same side of the street, like well handled operatives, unaware of the other’s existence. Into the third hour, she’s gained his complete trust, she begins pulling out details of how the men met, in Korea, then China and Cambodia.
They’d actually had it fairly soft. They weren’t in combat in any of those places, Vietnam long over. They were military espionage, bullied the locals, Jang the enforcer and assassin. He had the capacity, there just wasn’t much need during his stretch of service, not in the parts of the world where they served. They did get good at extortion, collections and bribery. They’d come to the attention of the Chinese and were carefully cultivated, not as spies, as potential business contacts when they returned to the states. They weren’t traitors in any traditional sense, they had few secrets to sell. They were greedy and liked feeling important and dangerous. In short, they were professional bullies. The Chinese gave them investment capital and kept them in storage for later use. That cash, and their penchant for pushing around small business owners, led to the acquisition of the cleaners and other businesses. When Chong retired, they were a natural choice.
Lingman is on a roll now, Janah presses him further. The story takes some detours, then she gets two names of Chinese contacts, even their titles and location. Neither is technically with the government. In China, the government is the bureaucrats people dealt with, then there’s the Communist Party. That’s where Lingman’s contacts operate. Unofficial criminal export, a useful service to the People’s Republic. Lingman is actually smiling as he tells Janah the story, right into the digital recorder, backed up by my video camera. It takes just under four hours.
Janah, “He’s dry. Wait, just for the heck of it…”
She asks about his social life and gets the name and phone number of the escort service that provides the girls. Outing him would give him a bad rep in the escort business, at least in this neck of the woods. Maybe it would be useful to the Society. It turns out he and his pals have a financial interest in that too, they didn’t even have to pay the girls. Lingman loves that part, calls it his free pussy posse.
We shut down, leave Lingman loosely tied. Quan is awake, some grunts and mumbles rumbling under his gag. Jang folded up on the floor, still unconscious. The sheetrock above him is cracked and buckled where he smashed into it.
While Janah worked, Chan and Nikko wiped down the place, bleached my drops of blood off the floor, pulled the bullet out of the wall. I close the front door and we head to the vehicles.
“That was lucky. I wonder why there wasn’t more traffic at the warehouse.”
Janah, “A fluke, it’s Friday, maybe they just don’t have much going on now. I mean, it’s a warehouse for supplies, overflow they can’t keep at the locations in bulk. Their businesses are local, except for the Chinese, who aren’t likely to send them a Fed Ex. Let’s get to the room. I want to get these home movies off. Send them to the Society after you edit out my questions, just Ling telling his story. Then call your old friend Chong.”
I call the office from a pay phone, he answers, I speak in Chinese. I call because I’d dealt with him during that refocusing, he has no idea of a Janah.
“You may remember me, we discussed your retirement last year, right around the time those awful people robbed you.”
Chong, “I seem to recall the incident, it was no big deal. Probably drug addicts, lot of that around. I’ve moved on, what’s the problem?”
“This isn’t a trouble call, I have no wish to disturb you. I have been referred two names from overseas. You may simply indicate if either name means anything to you. I’m simply checking references.”
“I understand. You were most helpful to me, perhaps I can repay the kindness. I give him two names. He says yes and no.
“If my work goes smoothly, you will not hear from me again. I trust there will be no interference.”
Chong, “The past is dead.”
“Let me wish you and your family good health and every happiness.”
Back at the hotel, Janah unwraps my bandages, the top of my ear is purple, generally a mess, the bleeding stopped. There’s nothing to stitch, a sliver off the top of my ear is gone, not just cut. Janah bathes me, delicately washes and redresses the wound, I lay on the couch with a plastic bag of ice on the injury. Janah opens the medical kit, takes out a syringe and a bottle of Lidocaine. She injects my ear front and back. I won’t be sleeping on that side for a while.
“I’m going to suture it anyway, it will work better than a pressure bandage. I can Dermabond over the suture.”
“Guess my dream of a career as an earring model has to be abandoned.”
“They could use the other one.”
She tells Chan and Nikko what Chong told me. He knew one name, not the other. She’s satisfied, he’d confirmed one, the other may be a new addition or Chong had simply never dealt with him. What the Society does now is out of her hands. We’d gotten what we came to get, Lingman and his pals will be front page news, convicted by his own words. The names of the contacts just above and below him part of the story. With more than enough details of extortion, a murder, tax evasion and harboring illegal immigrants to keep several federal agencies and the State Department busy pointing fingers and denying responsibility. Time to go home.
“Nice work Chan, you got skills my brother.”
Nikko, “I thought that asshole was going through the wall. My new brother is so wonderful. Li Jang knew how to use a knife, and he was quick. Not as quick as Chan.”
Janah, “You all did exactly as I asked, and I am very happy with you. No foolishness, in and out, did what we went to do. They had guns unfortunately, we all got the point that none of you is faster than a bullet. An inch difference and Daphne would be having brain surgery, if she lived. None of us wants to think about it, the evidence of our vulnerability is lying on the couch with a small piece of body part missing.”
It’s a sobering thought, it would be scary, except fear’s not in the repertoire. It is, however, a face to face with the cold reality of what these jobs are about. 
Nikko is sitting next to me, holding my hand, “How do you think this will go?”
Janah, “We don’t know what the targets will or won’t say, it will be hard for them to just run for cover. Lingman won’t remember everything he told me, nor will he want to. The people he deals with above and below him aren’t going to be happy, the detail can only have come from him. Three women and an oriental guy resembling a Humvee are too visible around here if the bad guys get serious about looking. We need to evaporate.”
“We were disguised well, Chan had a watch cap and sunglasses. It’ll take some few days for this to filter out. We’ll be home before people start nosing around.”
Janah, “Nikko, get Transportation to book the flights two and two. You and Daphne take one, Chan and I will go on the other.”
“Put them on a direct flight, no, better yet, tell Transportation to call Blue Sky and charter a private plane. Nikko and I will go commercial. San Francisco to New York won’t be a problem. There’ll be a car and driver with your traveling name waiting to take you to the apartment. We’ll take the later flight. Just be sure…”
Janah, “To be at the apartment when you show up.”
“Mind reader.”
“I don’t like being apart any more than you. I’ll be there waiting.”
Chan goes to his room to clean up, after travel arrangements, Nikko and Janah get in the shower. Janah and Chan will leave early, flight at seven-thirty, Nikko and I at nine-forty, allowing for the lost three hours, we won’t get in until six, then the slog to Manhattan. They'll take the luggage, saving us from waiting on that.
I relax, watch the news while Nikko gives Janah explicit instruction in the shower regarding things Janah should do for her pleasure. The more she demands, the more excited Janah gets. I hear her moaning in the most intoxicatingly nasty Japanese and feel them both explode in orgasm. I wonder if they’ve used up all the hot water.
I curl in behind Nishiko on the couch.
“Mistress, Master J is very responsive to direction, and she learns so quickly.”
“That’s Master J. She seems captivated by your, uh, instruction.”
Her expression, which is no expression at all, never changes, “I have certain needs she’s getting better at meeting. With more training, she will be a perfect pillow girl for Nikko.”
“You know Janah, she delights in learning.”
We eat and movie for a while, Janah changes the dressing, my ear is crusted and purple with bruising another inch down. She anesthetizes it again. There is nothing to do but keep it clean and let nature do its thing. It’s time to get to bed. I’m already halfway gone. Nikko curls next to me and kisses me gently.
Janah snuggles in on my other side. Tonight, I will be surrounded. Janah is in my mind and in minutes I am completely gone. Janah and Chan are leaving at five. Flying privately skips check-in and boarding hassle, on the plane, they are comfortably sipping fresh ginger green tea with Chan by quarter to eight. The attendant brings breakfast and slips quietly away.
As Nikko and I are checking in to our flight, I hear my girl, Daph, I could get used to this private jet thing. Everything runs like a watch.
Enjoy. At least Nishiko and I are flying up front, and no baggage hassle. The flight attendant is hot. She's eyeing Nikko. I think we're going to get really good service.

Chapter Fifty Six III

George Costanza: Kramer goes to a fantasy camp?
His whole life is a fantasy camp.
People should plunk down $2000 to live like him for a week.
Sleep, do nothing, fall ass-backwards into money,
mooch food off your neighbors and have sex without dating...
THAT'S a fantasy camp.
From Seinfeld

Shortly after seven the next evening, everyone is back at the apartment. Janah rounded up food from Marconi’s and has it warmed and ready when Nikko and I show up. We shower first, feel airplane grimy, the scent of too many bodies in too little space, not to mention all the shared air.
Nice, we take an hour over dinner, then an hour over an HBO thing, then bed.
Today’s Sunday, going for brunch at the mom’s, almost it’s usual relaxed success. There is the part about my ear. James looks it over in the bathroom, Janah leans on the doorframe.
“Shall we talk about how this happened?”
Janah, “Can you guess?”
James, “She’s fast, not faster than a bullet. What are you going to tell the moms?”
“Nothing. We don’t talk about the trips for a reason, their safety. Sometimes one of us is going to come back injured, it’s naïve to think otherwise. I can tell you this, since you know what caused it, it was a fluke. I was watching, I don’t think he intended to fire it at all. It would have been troublesome for them in that situation, in his warehouse. They would have had to kill us all, then dispose of four bodies, or deal with the police. My guess is their instant reaction was someone breaking in to steal stuff. They just wanted to get us covered, then figure out what was what. It’s not like they knew someone was after them specifically.”
James, “Good thing it just nicked your ear. It could have been done with a blade, a swipe from the side that just caught the top of your ear. Probably bled like a banshee, it’s really not that deep. You ear is just a little flat on top.”
“I won’t say. Any story about a stray bullet is unnecessarily scary. Any other story leads to questions about fighting details. I got a minor injury, stuff happens. Good thing my hair was tied back, the bullet would have taken more than a snippet of ear. Now, at least my hair covers the injury.”
We return to the big room and sit at the dining table.
Susan, “I presume any story about how you got injured is off limits.”
“Sorry Sis, it’s boring anyway. I slipped off my yoga mat.”
“Then let’s move on to less worrisome topics. We’re not so dense as to think nothing would ever go wrong.”
Further worry is sidetracked when Lacy shows up with Sonia right behind her. Lacy is a regular, Sonia comes by this Sunday, to see Chan and visit Black. She’s taller, somewhere between Janah and me, cute figure, more filled out up top than any of us. She’s busy with counseling course work, volunteering at a crisis center, graduating soon, then on to a Masters. Black will work at something. Maybe open a school and teach martial arts once he is sent out in the world. He, Chan and David will likely test at or near the same time. Janah knew it would be soon, the boys were not to know until Master Sung told them, so Janah keeps her peace. Chan would be in his apartment in three or four months, be nice to have him around.
Since Sonia is here, we stay at the condo longer than usual, it’s almost five when we wander back to the apartment, Sonia’s going to an early dinner with her father, back to spend the night with the moms, to the temple in the morning.
Janah and Chan lounge on the couch watching a movie I’d TIVO’d. It finishes just after seven.
Janah, “I guess I should actually do something today besides be a love sponge. I feel my brother getting hungry, or I feel me getting hungry. My contribution will be to pick up the phone and order something. Anyone have special requests?”
Pizza is always a good bet, she calls our friends down the street and walks with Chan to pick it up. Nikko gets drinks and plates, and soon there’s a pizza party of massive proportions, along with Italian salad, cannoli for dessert. The crunchy tube pastry is filled with mascarpone, vanilla and chocolate. Not the finger size cannulicchi, the big fat cannoli.
While we eat, we talk training. Chan wants to know about kendo. Nikko shows him the hakama, the uniform, unlike a dobok or gi worn in other arts. It’s a pleated split skirt worn with a keikogi, the heavy cotton top. There is an orderly way to put it on, left leg first, and an orderly way to take it off, right leg first, an orderly way to fold it, to wash it, like there is a right way to sheathe and unsheathe the katana. The bamboo sword is called a shinai, each part of which has a name which she explains to him. It is necessary to inspect, sand and glue the shinai to protect from splinters and damage caused during training. There is a sparring uniform and helmet, all of which is put on, taken off and folded according to ritual. It’s all so totally Japanese, which is a compliment; Japanese in the sense of orderly.
She explains how rankings work, beginners start at 6th kyu, and work up to 1st, which might take three years, at which point the black belt is awarded. Then enter the dan level at 1st up to 8th if we ever got that far. It might be a fifty year process.
Chan, “Like all martial arts, it is discipline and self control until mastered.”
Nikko, “Exactly. The epitome of anal retentive perfectionist, and the yang is release of all knowledge during combat. It’s hard to imagine free spirited unbound anally retentive. That’s the mystery of the art.”
Chan, “Sounds like one of my sisters.”
Janah, “Which is why Daphne is Daphne, a mystery wrapped in an enigma.”
“Who said that?’
Janah, “I think it was Churchill, actual circumstances seem to be opaque, like the saying itself.”
“There was an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry described Newman as a mystery wrapped in a Twinkie.”
Nikko, “I remember that. I didn’t watch much television, I watched Seinfeld.”
Janah, “How would we have guessed?”
Chan, “What’s Seinfeld?”
“Wow, what an opportunity! Little brother has never seen the program. When he’s here, we’re going on a trip down memory lane.”
Nikko, “Cool. Seinfeld is very Ch’an, Chan. It’s totally New York and the program is about nothing. Not exactly nothing, the characters play some of the most self absorbed people on the planet.”
Chan, “Ah, then it’s about illusion and truth.”
Janah, “Like Shaolin.”
Lacy calls and asks if we were still up, Janah told her to come on over, she pulls up a chair and slides a slice of pizza on her plate.
“Can I warm it?”
Lacy, “It’s fine baby, may I have salad? What an oinker, I ate a ton at brunch. On the way back I was congratulating myself for being a good girl and skipping diner, oh well. Sonia’s in heaven, all the moms are doing their thing, poor girl can’t catch a breath, they want every detail of college. She finally turned the tables, when I left they were talking about you guys, the school, Chris’ latest book and Kara’s painting. It was one of those impossible sessions where everyone is having two or three conversations. James had given up and was watching a ball game or something. They may be up until midnight, I think it was about the end of the third bottle of wine.”
“Guess we better call first before Nikko shows up at the crack of dawn.”
Lacy, “I think the crack of 8 or 9 will be more like it, even for Sis. She had a full head of steam when I left, just let her call you is my suggestion.”
“Good idea.”
Lacy is working on a cannoli, “God this is so good, here, somebody finish the other half, please.”
Janah shares it with Chan, has maybe a bite, feed him the rest. We chat aimlessly for another hour, then everyone gets the yawns. Bedtime.

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