Monday, Mani heads to class at eight thirty. At nine twenty Katja and Katya take a ride to the UNO campus, park a discreet distance from the liberal arts complex and wait until nine fifty.
They exit, walk to the building, ask for the English literature class, a coed points to the second floor, gives a room number. Up the steps, Katja takes one end of the walkway, Katya the other. Naturally they don’t resemble Katya and Katja, they resemble college students. Bulky long coats, sneakers, Katja has a ball cap and sunglasses, hair tucked inside her jacket. Katya pretty much the same except she has a watch cap pulled low over her ears. It’s not freezing, but it’s chilly and the wind comes across Lake Pontchartrain at a brisk clip.
Doors open, students flood the hallway. They see Mani, right behind her a black man. Older for an undergrad, twenty three or four at least, and sizeable, six one or two. He’s talking and he doesn’t look happy.
They head to Katya’s side, she goes down the stairwell, Katja is behind them. At the bottom, Mani picks up the pace now that the student crush has thinned. Black guy is stalking. He grabs her arm.
Katya’s close enough to hear, “Fuck, hol’ up. Elton show you a good time, why you gotta go all uppity. Jus’ relax, I be good to my girls.”
Mani, “Then go be good to them, you got so many, please leave me alone.”
Elton, “Ain’t like that. Elton likes a challenge, I think you jus’ needin’ a little nudge, I got a big nudger.”
Mani, “Eeeww, gross, go away,” she turns, he grabs her arm, “Don’t be turnin’ your back on Elton, bitch.”
She shrugs her arm out of his grip, runs down the walkway to the building next door.
Elton mumbles, “Gonna have to get serious. Elton make a play, they don’t get away.”
He strides off in the opposite direction. He’s got company he doesn’t know about.
Katya, “Get the car, he may be driving someplace.”
Katya follows, he’s in the same lot they are. His car’s not pimped out, but it’s leaning in that direction. Cadillac something, black flash rims. Bass pumps through the closed window soon as he cranks up.
Katja pulls up, Katya gets in. Elton’s still got company.
He’s headed down Elysian Fields. If he went all the way, he’d be at the back of the French Quarter, but he doesn’t get that far. He takes a right on Claiborne, pulls into a chicken place. It’s early, ten thirty, there’s no lunch crowd to speak of. His is the only car in the small strip of parking places out front.
He comes out with a box of chicken and a drink. Drink goes on top of the car while he opens the door. He takes the drink and starts to slide in. Katya kicks him in the side, hard, he slams down to the seat, drink and chicken fly all over the roof and hood. She kicks him again, his head smashes the doorframe, her Glock is in his ear.
He feels the gun, hears the hammer click, he slides in. In the passenger seat is someone else with a Glock pointed at him. The driver’s door slams.
Katja, “Back out, nice and easy, take a right.”
“Fuck this about, I ain’t fuckin’ goin’ no place.”
She shoots him in the left knee, he howls, “Fuck, you fuckin’ crazy?”
“Yes, drive and live, or die here.”
He decides to drive.
She directs him to a still empty leftover Katrina wreck. Houses on Iberville and Bienville in this stretch of town had been deteriorating for years. Katrina did them a favor. Most demolished in the flood, some rebuilt, some still half standing all these years later. Since nobody's paid property tax on the places for years, the city can't figure out who owns them and they sure didn't have flood insurance. Short driveway in front, small garage, the door is up, the house gutted.
He balks, she shoots his dashboard, the sound system isn’t going to work ever again.
“Fuck, that’s a thousand dollar system.”
“Not anymore, drive in.”
“Now you gonna tell me what the fuck this is about. I don’t know you, what’s your bitch, bitch?”
Katja breaks his nose with the butt of the Glock, “Shut up.”
Blood drips over his lip, he’s dizzy.
Katya pulls in the drive. Passersby can’t see in the garage now. She opens his door, pulls him out, Glock under his chin, she sticks her knee deep into his groin. While he’s doubled over, she does it again, then a hard knee to his jaw. Teeth snap crackle and pop.
She waits until he’s done dry heaving, good thing he didn’t get to eat the chicken.
Katya, “Listen and listen like you life depends on it. You will drop out of school, you will never go to the campus again, ever, in this or any future life. Just disappear.”
Katja has his car registration and digs out his driver’s license, makes a note of the address and the plate on his car. She fishes around in the trunk, in the wheel well are packages of crack.
“We know your name and where you live. Don’t make me come for you. You won’t see me, you won’t hear me, you won’t even experience me, a hollow point in your head will make a mess of your brain, you can’t afford to lose any more neurons.”
He blinks, he’s fuzzy, but he heard, “Who sent you, PJ? Some-a them black bitches.”
“Black girls don’t like you Elton, they don’t like you at all. They sent some white bitches to redirect you. Personally, I don’t give a shit who you hit on, but black girls, they got prejudices. We hire out to who pays, they come to us, we go to you. It’s business. More important is we don’t see or hear about you on that campus anymore. They go to school there, they call me again, I come for you. Am I clear, or are you dead?”
Elton, “Jus’ goin’ to meet hoes, I got my own thing. Don’t need no classes.”
“Good to hear. Now, as a reminder,” she puts one in his foot.
He’s on his ass, standing is a problem, Katja shot his left knee, Katya his right foot.
Katja, “We haf his drugs, spread them around, kill him, looks like drug deal gone bad.”
Elton, “No! I….”
Katya puts one in his forehead, Elton’s days of jiving the ladies are over. The twins drive home.
Ellen, “Get him out of it?”
“He ees not anymore problem, for anyone.”
Ellen grins, “Wish I’da seen it.”
“We do not say anything to Mani.”
“What if it gets back to her that he’s....expired?”
“She haf no idea we own gun. Just leesten to her, black guy, black neighborhood, you don’t know anything. Story will be of robbery, bad drug deal. Elton ees selling drugs, I find een trunk.”
Ellen, “Thanks for taking care of it, she don’t need that shit, she’s just a kid trying to get an education.”
Story makes the six o’clock news, but Ellen doesn’t mention it, she spotted it on the local channel website. It will be all over the campus, better she hears it from there. More distance for the twins.
“Next time, take out your phone and start the video, if he comes up, let him start his bullshit, then stick the camera in his face so it is clear who it is, tell him to leave you alone, no means no, say it like that and say it loud, other people will hear. The school won’t want the liability, they will deal with him.”
Mani, “I wish I had thought of that in the first place. What if he grabs the phone or something?”
Katya, “Cannot fix everything. That’s assault. If you are able, kick him hard in the balls. Then punch him in the throat, not the face, the throat. Face and skull are hard, you will only hurt hand. If you cannot, you must scream at him to leave you alone. Try not to be anyplace by yourself, always other people around.”
“I have to walk to the parking lot.”
“Security guards at school?”
“Yes, campus security.”
“Then say boy is bothering and you want escort to parking lot. They will go with you.”
She sighs, “Such a pain, but I am glad for the advice.”
She won’t have to, not with Elton, but the advice applies to any situation with a persistent pest. Cute thing like Mani, it could soon enough be some other jerk.
Mani looks around, tea is over, there doesn’t seem to be dinner prep, Ellen usually has something going by now.
“Are we ordering out?”
Ellen, “Nope, going out, Bon Ton on Magazine Street. We could walk, but it’s windy, chilly and may rain. Just your skinny jeans or one of the casual dresses, gonna need your coat.”
Mani, “Never been there.”
“Best seafood in the city, an exaggeration, lots of seafood joints are great in New Orleans. We like this one, lunch or dinner.”
“Then a long bath, maybe with a glass of wine since I cannot drink at the restaurant.”
Ellen, “We have a little gift, a driver’s license that says you are twenty one eight months ago.”
She grins, then smiles her dazzler, “So cool! Where did you get the photo?”
“Katya took it while you were coming down the stairs, Photoshopped it onto a blue background.”
“I am wicked, I play the part of sweet college girl because it gets me what I want. Everyone wants to help the charming bubbly Thai Barbie.”
Katya, “Worked on Ellen, on us for that matter.”
She grins mischievously, “I am good at it. I learned from manipulating my aunt. A necessity to avoid the back of her hand. I would have offed her, but I needed the money and place to live.”
Ellen, “Oh come one, you couldn’t kill nobody.”
Mani, “Elton was top of the list. I did not have a gun, do not know how to use one, knife is guesswork and messy. And people knew I was being bothered by him, I would be a suspect.”
Katja, “Good thinking. Never retaliate when you can be even maybe suspect. Only eef you haf peerfect alibi.”
Mani hops up the steps and disappears.
"Ellen, find out more about her interests, does she want to learn to shoot. Go slow, do not imply or suggest, do not press it. It has to come from her.”
Ellen, “On it, we taking in a partner?”
“No way to tell, it is probably talk. But most people would not so easily go dominant, like slap you around when she gets in the mood. She has a sadistic streak. Let it slide for a couple of days, she will have her game with you. Bring up shooting next week, offer to go to a range with her. No mention of Houston, do not tell her we have guns. Use something from wherever you go, if you go.”
“And if she’s not interested, drop it.”
“Da, yes. She must be already killer, we do not make her one.”
“Think she’s really a bad girl acting like a good one?”
Katya, “She might think so. Everyone is more than one person only. You are killer one day, then sweet girl who cares for twins the next. Nobody is constant, no, what’s the word?…consistent.”
Ellen, “That’s true, never occurred to me before. You’re a real psychology lesson.
Vodka shots poured, Ellen shoots the first, she pours a second round for sipping. Opens a bottle of cabernet and takes a glass to Mani.
“Here you go Thai Barbie."
She slips on a chemise and shoes, nothing else, grabs her long coat, “Okay, now we can get going, want me to drive?”
A six minute trip, Ellen drops them at the entrance and pulls off to find a parking spot. As she’s about to drive off, an SUV pulls away a half block behind her. She backs up and cuts into the space.
The restaurant is two thirds full, it’s primarily a busy lunch spot and, like anyplace, prices are higher on the dinner menu. Vodka shows up just as Ellen sits.
“Got lucky, somebody pulled out behind me, car’s right up the street.”
Mani, “Good, it looks like rain.”
“I have an umbrella in the coat.”
Katja’s become a crawfish bisque junkie, Katya likes turtle soup, Ellen goes for shrimp and okra gumbo, Mani has the same. She also tries a spoon of Katja’s bisque.
“Oh God, that is spectacular, so rich, I’m getting that for the main course.”
Fried shrimp, oysters and speckled trout for entrees. In New Orleans they know how to fry seafood, crispy crunch outside and grease free inside.
Mani is enthused, “I never knew this place existed, hardly came downtown.”
Ellen, “You didn’t do the French Quarter?”
“Once, there was not much point, too young to get into bars, no money for fine dining, or even casual dining. UNO has a decent enough cafeteria, I ate there. The Quarter was just more guys trying to hit on me and I was not about to take a drink from them.”
Katya, “Mardi Gras is coming up soon.”
“We gonna stay here?”
“Da, yes, we will have to look after house and it is no good to have Mani there alone. The event runs for two weeks, not just one day.”
Ellen, “I’m gonna stock up of food, cook, we’ll hide out at home until the storm passes. It’s two weekends and Mardi Gras day shot, the other parades are at night.”
Mani, “Do the parades go in the French Quarter?”
“No, just on Canal Street and down St. Charles Avenue. But people pack the Quarter, mostly up front, where we live isn’t the tourist area.”
Mani, “I’m glad you aren’t leaving.”
Ellen, “Where you are home by yourself, pay attention to what’s around you. Open the gate with the remote, get in and get it closed. If there are people on the street, make sure they get a block away first, less it’s an old lady. That gate’s heavy, nobody is getting’ in through that sucker. The exterior doors are all steel painted to look like wood, the deadbolts are stainless steel Medeco Maxum, top rated. There are interior and exterior video cams, never open the door or gate without checking and if you don’t recognize them, don’t answer the door at all. The street-side windows are bulletproof on all floors, downstairs the windows also have retractable steel covers, click the switch, they slide right into place.”
Mani, “I practiced with the remote, I can get the gate to open from a half block away. Did not know the windows are bulletproof, they look like windows.”
“It cost a bundle, but we don’t have to worry about a guy with a hammer or one with a gun. We keep the curtains closed in front, people walk by it’s too big a temptation to peek in.”
Mani grins, “And if they spot you in there naked, a crowd will gather.”
“My strip show is for a very small audience, no cover, no minimum.”
They wrap up dinner, Ellen takes a look outside while Katja pays the tab, just starting to mist. She has the Hyundai waiting when they come out, home in minutes.
De-clothe to t-shirts, they have nightcaps in the living area.
They wake as they slept, Katya in Mani’s bed, Ellen in the twins’ room. Mani blinks awake, rolls out of bed, class today, need to get going. Quick shower, into jeans, shirt, sneakers, takes her coat.
Ellen is in the kitchen, back to the stairs, Mani takes a moment to appreciate the vision.
Ellen, “Coffee’s ready, and I picked up rolls and stuff from the bakery.”
Mani steps behind her, takes a minute to fondle, Ellen turns for a kiss.
“Katya have fun?”
Mani, “She is ravenous, I did her for the longest, then she jumped me again, it was great.”
“Wait’ll you get ‘em both.”
“You gotta get movin’, take one of the cars today, it’s cold and looks like rain.”
Mani puts together coffee in a covered styro cup, wraps a donut in a paper towel, kiss for Ellen and she’s out.
Katja’s up, has tea while Ellen has a second cup of coffee.
“Sister ees decide to move to New Orleans more permanent. Weather ees the same as Houston, she ees more relax here, city ees take it easy, what do they call it?”
“Da, beeg easy.”
“What do you do with Katya Donut?”
“Nothing, we can monitor from here, we do it for months now already.”
“Want to open here?”
“Nyet, enough for beezness, good for cash washing.”
Ellen smiles, “Money laundering.”
“Da. We may buy property here, in French Quarter, renovate and rent or sell. Only for something to do. You did good job on this place, maybe you will do again.”
Ellen brightens, “Sure, I’ll do it, I could get into that. Start with something smaller than this place please. I wanna get my feet on the ground. We live here, rental property is different, don’t dress it up like our place. Renovate to sell is another matter. We got top drawer appliances, the windows and doors are specialty items, flooring fix was expensive, painted everything and put in all new bath fixtures. It doesn’t much resemble the interior when we bought it.”
Katja, “You will find a place, no rush, take a long look. Sell or rent, money goes to bank. Katya will invest and we will haf more money.”
“I’ll bring up the gun thing next week. Right now she’s giddy with girls and she’s bound to find out Elton is out of the picture, maybe today.”
“Up to you, eef you decide to let the gun part slide, ees okay also.”
“We don’t do that much killing, is there room for another on the payroll?”
“Penny wants to do more, she says we could double beezness, haf of world want to keel other haf. Katya held back because we were doing New Orleans. You are working real estate for our investment, we also get money from conflict resolving.”
“I see it, longs I get to go on jobs sometimes, I like pullin’ the trigger.”
“There will be good beezness for everyone. For now, start real estate project.”
Ellen smiles, this is too much fun, the girls are giving her more responsibility, she thinks, 'I gotta get it right, I’m gonna talk to that decorator, she might know who’s who. Then I’ll fish around a couple real estate agents, Quarter specialists, see who’s the biggest liar.'
Ellen is street smart enough to know, when it’s money, people will say and do damn near anything. She determines to listen to a fair number of real estate types, look for a trusted source of information.
Katya comes along, time to get her girls fed.
“Tea’s there, I got donuts and rolls from the bakery, do you want eggs?”
“No, sit and have coffee, rolls are fine, big dinner last night. And a light lunch today, or nothing if you are going to work on property project.”
Ellen, “May’s well get cranking, thought I’d chat with the decorator, she seemed savvy on the Quarter and she’ll smell more commissions. Then I’ll talk to a couple agents that work the area. Thought I’d try to find a local expert to advise, somebody that isn’t buying or selling.”
Katya, “Good idea. Then we will worry about lunch, sounds like you will be out most of the day.”
“Lemme get dressed and make some calls,” she’s up the stairs, better to go out in actual clothes.
Katya, “Ellen is more valuable every day. She does what she’s told, and does it well.”
“She ees happy to haf us. We gave her millions and took her as lover and family. She even found a play buddy for herself.”
Katya, “And for us, Mani is a willing student, she will want you to take her next. Wait a few days, she will be your puppy to train.”
“We haf good girls to make sex, still ees best wiz sister,” they kiss, feed each other bites of cinnamon roll.
Ellen comes down, “Called Sherry, the decorator, we’re meeting for lunch. I also made an appointment this morning to see places with a realtor and started looking for an independent consultant. Gonna meet the real estate woman in half an hour, just two blocks over.”
The phone rings, Ellen clicks on, “Hey honey…wait, slow down, what? No shit, ain’t that a kick in the head? I’m sure glad for you sweet. Got a bit of news myself, we’ll talk this afternoon, get to class now, bye sweetie.”
“Apparently Elton got himself dead. Mani’s so happy, giggly about his unfortunate encounter with drug dealers.”
Katya, “He deserved it.”
“Well, darlins, I gotta meet a real estate shark, let’s see who can out lie who in this town.”
The twins go to EnVie for lunch, Michael waves, “Les Trois…wait, only les deux perfections, where is Miss Ellen?”
Katja, “She ees looking for property.”
“In the Quarter?”
“Da, yes, we are making maybe investment.”
“Let me give you a name, finance prof at Tulane but also the local expert on all kinds of real estate. I know him, he can tell you the going square foot rate, commercial, residential, whatever.”
He writes the name, Edwin Walton, hands the slip of paper to Katja, “What are you having today? You usually come for breakfast.”
Katja, “Shepard’s omelet, Katya will haf steak and chiz panini, sugar-free raspberry sodas.”
He spritzes seltzer over raspberry flavoring, drops in ice, hands the drinks to Katja, “Food up in a minute.”
And it is, “Here you are,” he sets down the plates, “bon appétit.”
The omelet has grilled mushroom, red peppers, caramelized onion and goat cheese, each has half a sandwich and half an omelet.
“Has Gerard been in?”
“Just about every day, he asked after you guys just this morning.”
“We haf a new housemate, leaf een housekeeping girl. At first we thought to haf someone at house when we are gone. Then Katya decides to move here full time. We like our house and Quarter.”
Michael grins, “Great, get to see you all year. The place grew on me too. The suburbs are boring, but the city has charm. Crime and charm. Some dope deal went bad right on Esplanade, not the Quarter side, further down. Crappy neighborhood.”
“We never go to those places, dangerous.”
“Yeah, me neither. Too many guns.”
After lunch, short walk home, then a nap seems in order. Off with jeans and shirts, refresh in the bathroom and curl together under the comforter. It’s cold today, feels good to have an identical to cuddle.
Mani comes in at three, finds the twins just blinking awake, sits on the side of the bed. Katya has Katja wrapped up in arms and legs, kisses her shoulder and neck.
Mani blinks, eyes widen, “That’s sexy…do you…um, none of my business, sorry.”
Katja stretches and yawns, “Sister and I make sex together, turn on for us and for Ellen.”
“Turn on for me. I kind of wondered, the way you look at each other, touch an arm or kiss a shoulder, peck on the lips sometimes. I thought it might be my imagination, or fantasy.”
“No, we are bad girls who are eencesting. We do not care, not going to get pregnant and haf idiot baby.”
Mani laughs, “Katja you are too funny. Between the accent and your say anything attitude, my life has jumped a whole new level, several levels,” she looks around, “Ellen’s out?”
“Da, she will be back soon.”
“Got any laundry? I see wet towels, take those, anything else?”
“Nyet, things are een already laundry room.”
“Okay, be back to clean the bathroom in a bit.”
She goes down, the twins slip into t-shirts and thigh high socks, pad down the stairs.
Katja mumbles to herself, ‘Almost tea, I will make now anyway. Ellen ees busy wiz real estate persons, where ees tea pot? Ah, here, Mani ees turn on by sisters, Ellen also, everyone likes tweensex girls. Maybe Katya will write book…’
Her thought ramble stops while she boils water, into the teapot and adds two spoons of Jutlibari, a particularly strong black tea. Steep for five, ready to drink. Ellen walks in, “Cool, right on time for tea. God, I’ve seen nearly every for sale property in the Quarter.”
“Michael gave us name of person at Tulane for real estate. He charges a fee, Michael does not know how much.”
“I’ll call him tomorrow, see if I think it’s worth it. I got details, asking prices, square feet of living area, some have parking, most don’t. We didn’t discuss commercial. One place has apartments upstairs and retail space down. Right now, it’s a boutique, women’s clothes and a few shoes.”
“Haf tea, you will figure out what to do, talk to Katya later, she ees real estate beezness girl, not me.”
“She did well in Houston, shoulda taken her along.”
“She will get into it when you haf narrow to first property. Eef you want to start smaller, then one wiz commercial space ees not for us. Katya will decide, we do well wiz small commercial property in Houston.”
Mani comes from upstairs, “Ellen! Hi, tea time, good, can I get a kiss?”
“You look a little frazzled.”
“Been stomping around buildings. Lot of stuff for sale, we should make out okay on price.”
Katya, “We will need to make Louisiana corporation. I will find a lawyer to draw up papers.”
“What we gonna call it?”
“Think up something simple but does not mean anything.”
Mani, “Sabelin,” she spells it.
Katya, “Good one.”
Ellen, “Good one what? It sounds nice, never heard it before.”
“Anagram for lesbian.”
Ellen, “What’s an anagram?”
Mani, “Take the letters of a word and make a different word out of them.”
“Well ain’t that the cutest thing. Sabelin Partners, lesbian partners.”
Tea over, Ellen starts noodling around for something to cook.
Katja, “You do not haf to make dinner, we can go out.”
Ellen, “Not a problem, if it’s okay I’ve had enough out for one day, I’d just like to be home. I took burgers out this morning, good ones from Rouse, toss ‘em on the grill, we’re set. Got buns, all the extras, won’t take twenty minutes.”
Mani, “Hamburgers sound good. It’s five, I got an hour or so of study if nobody needs anything.”
Ellen, “We’ll have drinks at six thirty, dinner at seven thirty, quarter to eight. Right now, I need to haul my butt to the shower.”
Katya spreads out the property information Ellen collected, Katja surfs around for a movie they can watch later. After checking HBO and Showtime, she goes to Netflix. Snowpiercer is streaming, good enough. They also occasionally watch old BBC mysteries, Sherlock, Wallander, Poirot or Midsomer Murders. Someone is always getting killed, frequently several someones.
She starts to click off the TV, inadvertently hits a channel button, the local news is on.
“A gruesome story today in the French Quarter, workers found the body of a woman inside an unoccupied house on Barracks Street. She had been beheaded. Police say they are attempting to identify the victim, there was no purse or wallet. They do know it is not her house, the owner is away during the extensive renovations. We will be following up as more information becomes available.”
Katja, “Gerard leefs on Barracks Street, I will call.”
Gerard, “Oh my. I heard the police cars, or an ambulance. I poked my nose out, they were in the next block. Beheaded you say, how horrible. And they’ve no idea who it is?”
“Not according to news. They did not anyway know much. When they said Barracks Street, we wanted to check on you, maybe crazy person is run around Quarter.”
Gerard, “Crazy people are all over the Quarter, but mostly harmless, certainly not cutting people’s heads off. Thank you for thinking of me. I think I will see if I can dig up any details.”
“We are hafing cocktail een a half hour, come over if you wish. Ellen ees making grill hamburger.”
“How very nice. I shall see you then.”
“Do not lose head on the way.”
Gerard, “I shall pay close attention.”
Mani is still studying, Ellen comes down, Katya gives her the story.
“Christ, her head cut off? That’s ugly. Can’t be a garden variety robbery, maybe a crazy Muslim loose in the Quarter.”
Katya, “From now on, carry gun. And Mani cannot go to class on scooter, take car. If we need both cars, take her to class and pick up.”
Ellen goes upstairs to the safe, takes out three new Glock 42s. Small, concealable, six inches long and four inches high. Shoots the .380 caliber, lethal enough, six in the magazine, one in the chamber. Doesn’t weigh two pounds loaded. She also takes three extra magazines, loads those as well.
“Fits in a coat pocket, or you can holster it. We’ll have to wear jackets, suit coats will work.”
Katya, “Just be careful, we do not have permit to conceal carry.”
“Given our sideline, handing the state our fingerprints isn’t a good idea. The guns are in your bedroom closet. Don’t need Gerard or Mani to see them. I haven’t figured out what to do about Mani yet.”