Chapter Fifty Seven
Amaya and I collect Sonia and Black at noon, drive them back to Brooklyn. They don't live far over the bridge, toney Park Slope. Nikko invested in an apartment building here, I figure we can gentrify with the best of 'em.
Sonia, "We feel ‘all that’ living here, have to dodge the baby strollers, but the neighborhood is great. We truly appreciate the weekend, it was like fairyland, handsome prince and all."
We hug goodbye, Amaya sails us back to our own nirvana, she asks, "I did not think to ask, what does the suite run anyway?"
"A couple grand a night, the really expensive ones run ten to twenty. Black and Sonia would have thought it overkill. There's a point where people go from the thrill of luxury to superfluous extravagance. We've paid twenty four hundred a night at Shutters, that's quite enough."
"Lovely couple, they are worth it, Black has earned his stripes with us, plus he is doing a great job with the Down Homes. I know Dasha is relieved after the Bronx thing."
"That stuff happens when owners aren't on site. We can't have Dasha tied up at those places every day, Black is a trusted alternative and the management isn't going to get the stupids with him around. Daria follows the cash flow more closely as well. Every register entry, every vendor charge shows up as it's made or paid. It compares food cost, salaries, utilities, to revenue. She designed it so if anything strays off normal she gets a text. There are occasionally unusual expenses, repairs, new piece of equipment, so far, there's been nothing suspicious."
Amaya, "When does she have time? I never see her studying spreadsheets."
"Down time in the workshop, waiting on Eloise to finish something, also on the way to and from the office. It's a connected world, she can get everything she needs in seconds on her IPad or phone. Her brain is like Janah's and processes data that would make you or me dizzy. She also reads the daily P&L from Murakami Sylk, both our property and the management company. I think it's good for her, she needs her brain occupied, maybe a few less mangled people if she's busy crunching numbers."
Amaya, "Then Nikko and Zi look at the numbers as well?"
"Daria doesn't do every property. Each of them takes a third and reviews the daily data for a month, then they swap up. Nikko's idea is to have different eyes on each report and they stay familiar with all of it. It's millions in revenue and expense every month, a string unravels and we have a problem."
Amaya, "I thought Nikko had a bunch of MBAs doing that."
"She does, but it's not their property, it's the family's business and Nikko is ultimately only going to rely on herself and family to oversee it. The various department managers are aware Nikko, Daria and Zi know more about what's going than they do. Keeps them on their toes."
Amaya, "I should not wish to face down Nikko or Daria with guesswork, and Zi knows if they are hiding or fudging at a glance."
"That's the way of it."
Home, best of all possible places, it's just two, an entire Sunday afternoon of nothing except tea, cocktail hour and dinner.
Dasha, "Everyone will be ready for dinner, we skip beeg breakfast, I make light lunch only."
"After last night, I didn't want anything but coffee this morning. Amaya and I didn't have lunch. What do you want for dinner?"
Dasha, "I think we do not cook, order pizza or Empire Szechuan, or from Fong's."
I look over to the family, "You heard, any preferences?"
"Pizza," practically a layup, we can heat it, watch a movie, take breaks to grab another slice or refill a wineglass.
Tea comes and goes, we play with our new toys, our necklaces and rings with photo and video capacity, then replay our home movies.
Nikko, "These things are remarkable, excellent quality, starts and stops on a dime, audio is good for ten feet or so. I don't know exactly when they'll come in handy, but if we need a recording, this is a neat way of getting it."
Janah, "Might have been fun when we went to the event with William and Kate, or in our Society work if we're interviewing people or just being sneaky."
Daria, "Next we will add ultraviolet and infrared. We think Zi and Chloe may be able to read auras from video or photo with expanded wavelengths."
Chloe, "Get out, that would be amazing."
Daria, "You see auras while others do not because they are in colors the average eye cannot see. When you say you see snowy violet, it is an approximation, the orange of an aura is not exactly orange. Black seems to be different, like for Shadows, black is black, not a color, the absence of color. White is all colors at once, you see that when there is a rainbow which refracts the colors into colors you can see, but a rainbow has far more colors, humans just can't see them."
Chloe, "So ultraviolet expands the range of colors?"
Daria, "Violet has the shortest wavelength of visible colors, ultraviolet has shorter wavelengths than violet, so yes, more colors."
Zi, "What about infrared?"
Daria, "Opposite of ultraviolet, longer wavelengths than visible colors. Maybe out of that combination, ultraviolet and infrared, the aura arises. We will find out."
Janah, "What a lovely experiment. It seems to be why the birds and some other animals are so quick to pick up intent, they see what we cannot."
Chapter Fifty Eight XII
Monday, at breakfast, Janah says she needs to be at the temple, "They may think I've abandoned them."
"You were there last week."
"I know, but only a couple of hours. I'm going a few days this week, it's time to review disciples and consider promotions from student to disciple, we have one to test for master."
I ask Dasha, "You are going with Nikko today?"
"Da, wiz Zi and Daria."
Amaya, "Finalizing plans for our movie, Chloe and I are going to Los Angeles next week to start production. We will be there a month, then back to New York for scenes here."
"Quite a while then."
"Cannot be helped, Chloe is in almost every scene. Daria and Dasha don't need to be there for the first two weeks, but they have roles both in LA and here."
"In your book Daria is the same character, sociopathic daughter of a mob boss."
"Yes, and since you read it you know she's got a twin sister that wasn't in the first movie. It adds a twist, they start out as enemies of Chloe, then she saves Dasha who she thinks is Daria because the twin part is only revealed later. In LA there is one twin, the other is in New York. The reveal happens in New York."
"I remember, Dasha is in LA on mob business, she whacks another gangster Chloe is after. Dasha is taken prisoner, beaten and tossed in a cage. Chloe comes along, takes a couple of heads and saves her."
Amaya, "Yes, then they fly together to New York, Daria picks them up at the airport and Chloe discovers they are twins. Dasha and Daria do not friend anyone, but they feel an obligation to Chloe, they sign up to help her clean out the yakuza bad guys who are after her and proceed to leave a bloody trail of dead killers throughout the five boroughs, well, four, we don't go to Staten Island."
"How do you do this in PG-13?"
"No sex, or implied only. The violence has to do with amount of gore, we stay under the limits, there is little strong language. The book isn't full of sex anyway, there is little foul language, the violence is a bit more graphic because I have to describe it rather than show it. Childers knows just how far to take it."
Janah and I walk to the temple, it's a nice day, bit overcast and may rain later, but it isn't now.
"Master Sylk, Abbess, welcome," Master John is in the office, he's one of our ranking masters, the old ones who were here when Janah and I started have all passed. The temple has none of the masters from China left. Of course we have many Chinese students, disciples and masters, but they came to our temple as students, not from China. The original masters came because of Communist persecution, before the government discovered the tourism value of Shaolin. There are many talented Shaolin in China, a lot of it has moved to stage performances along with traditional practice. We don't do public performances, outside the temple monks don't wear robes or announce themselves. Sometimes we wear robes in Chinatown, when Janah sees patients at the herb shop for instance. The local community likes the Shaolin here and it gives them a connection to their traditions.
Master John, "I have the list of candidates for promotion, you have no doubt already reviewed the reports."
Janah, "Yes, disciple status is all on our internal website, Daphne and I read the monthly updates, they are thorough and complete. You have done a good job of oversight, the masters have been diligent about posting their evaluations. One question, Disciple Jin, what do you suggest?"
Master John, "We’re unanimous," we means the five masters that decide on promotions, plus Janah and myself, "Jin should not be allowed to remain a disciple. He’s contentious and discourteous, one or the other of us has spoken to him on several occasions."
Janah, "In the past, we’ve permitted a disciple to remain as a student, demoted. Some stayed for a while, all eventually moved on. Allowing them to stay takes up a slot for a new student and does not fix the demoted disciple's attitude. Demotion was a long tradition, some traditions need to be abandoned. I’m changing the policy, there will be no more demotions, they have to leave."
John looks to the other four, they shrug, there really is no benefit to the order or the disciple to let them cling to a way they do not practice.
Janah, "I'll speak to him today. The others appear to have met or exceeded requirements, is that right?"
Master John, "Sumeet tends to be aggressive, but he has been spoken to, as noted in the report. That was two months ago, he's backed off. Perhaps it was because he knew reviews were coming up, if he reverts to his old behavior we can deal with it then."
Janah looks to the others, "Agreed?"
They nod, Master Hi-song says, "The Sensitives say his aura is not so fiery, he spends more time in meditation and he talks things over with me. I think the change is real."
Janah, "Good enough. So, what of the students?"
Master John, "All agree on their promotion, Master Sylk, if I'm recalling accurately, is complimentary of this group."
"True. I've worked with all four. They are attentive, two more talented in gung fu, one seems to be more of an academic, the other may be a Sensitive, so far only glimmerings. All have met both academic and physical requirements. I'm not the gung fu master, perhaps Master Kaiser has observations."
"As Master Sylk said, two are quite good gung fu students, ahead of their rank. One even appears to have some of Master Sylk's proprioceptive and sensory skill."
Janah turns to me, "You mentioned her, Student Lee, yes?"
"Yes, she came here when she was six or seven, we aren't quite sure of her age. Now she’s fourteen. She is young for a disciple but we’ve promoted others at her age. After all, she's been here as a student for seven years, she shouldn't remain a student forever, not with her skill."
Janah, "Her academics appear to be solid, she's conversant in the teachings according to her reports. I don't see why we would hold her back. One thing, who here knows her well?"
"Master David, David Li, has worked with her. She likes the gardens, he says she spends time in Tan's hut as well."
Master Kaiser, "She applies it well in gung fu, not an adept like our Abbess or Master Sylk, but has some talent. I don't know what Master Li thinks."
Janah, "Sounds like we have a consensus, let's move forward. I need to see Jin first, but first, ask Disciple Broward to come in."
I go find Broward, he's at gung fu, "Disciple Broward, come with me please."
We return to the office, Disciple Broward bows to the collected masters, kneels, bows again to his Abbess.
Janah, "Disciple Broward, tell us, in what do you take refuge?"
This is the question every serious disciple longs to hear, and none would be unprepared to answer.
"I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the teachings, I take refuge in the Order, I take refuge in myself."
Janah, "Then, tomorrow, it is time for you to leave, please prepare."
He stands, there is no reaction, only Janah and I can see the minute uplift of his lips, a sparkle in his eyes. He bows slow and low, backs out of the room.
Janah, "Always a joy to ask that question and hear the solemn response. Now for less joyful matters, Daphne please ask Jin to come in, the rest of you have duties to attend to. I will do it one on one to spare him humiliation."
They leave, Janah says, "After you locate Jin, go to David Li and find out about student Lee."
I deliver Jin, head to the gardens.
Chapter Fifty Nine
David Li, "Master Sylk, the pigeons said you and our Abbess were in the temple. Time for reviews, yes?"
"Yep, we discussed a student, Lee, what do you know of her?"
"I wondered when she would rise to your attention. She is self effacing and would not attempt to impress."
"She has made an impression on some of the masters, they say you have talked with her."
"Yes, she is not a Sensitive, nor a Contemplative or academic, I believe she has physical skill approaching your own, although she restrains herself in gung fu. She has been working hard on qi, mostly on her own. She's up in Tan's hut frequently, every day in fact. I haven't seen the bamboo light up yet, not like with Daria and Dasha."
"Does your father know of her?"
David Li, "It hasn't come up, she has never formally asked to be trained."
"Would the birds have a feel for her? Not to talk to, what she's like, do they sense a skill?"
He gathers some of the pigeons around, they strut and coo like always when the human who can speak to them starts a conversation. A great horned owl swoops in and lands on one of the tables.
"Welcome, I did not expect a visit."
"You should be more attentive human."
"I get that a lot."
He blinks at me, black eyes blank, I could swear Dasha is really an owl, "The one you ask about is talented, like you. Unlike you, she has a misguided sense of humility, so she does not display her ability to its fullest. Humility is a waste, a human conceit, most of it fake, humans are humble to appear righteous, sanctimonious, which is no humility at all."
Dang, I had no idea he had such a vocabulary, "Then we shall correct that. She cannot be given proper guidance if we are always underestimating her skill."
"Then do as we do, throw her out of the comfortable nest she lives in."
"Thank you for your instruction."
I get a fresh blink, then he's aloft, lesson given and received.
Janah, "Jin is no more."
"You didn't kill him I hope."
"Is no more in the temple. They always know, I'm just delivering a message they can't bear to deliver to themselves, this one bowed and thanked me."
"I need to talk to Lee, can you round up Chan?"
Janah, "I was occupied, you found out something about Student Lee."
"Soon to be Disciple Lee, yeah, she's me without the flood of self esteem."
Janah, "I'm certain David Li didn't put it that way."
"No, an owl did."
Janah laughs, "We have twin owls at home, you come here and find another."
"Apparently I require constant instruction."
I change to a practice uniform, then to gung fu training, find Student Lee, tell her gung fu instructor I'm borrowing her.
"Student Lee, I need a workout, you will spar with me for a bit. When you spar with a master, you are to protect yourself and you are required to offer your very best effort, hold back nothing, do you understand."
Lee, "I've never sparred with a master before."
"And now, you will."
The others make a big circle, this will be interesting, why is Master Sylk sparring with a student? Masters demonstrate technique, which frequently includes a student getting tossed around, but not a one on one match.
We face each other and bow, she moves to fighting stance, I don't, which confuses her.
"You are to attack, any combination of strikes you wish."
Lee is not as tall as I am, still an adolescent. She's lean, not sure of her hair color, she's bald. Her face is a pleasant oval, big eyes, thin upper lip, full lower, kind of like mine. She's going to grow, her feet are bigger than her height requires, hands with long thin fingers.
I notice a change of demeanor, eyes narrow, she's grasped that something is different, hasn't figured out what yet.
She comes with a flurry of kicks, sweeps and hand strikes. I let her make contact on a few, she's still withholding. I send her flying with a front kick, she lands on her butt, dust flies up. She rolls over her shoulder and hops up. Comes again, every strike is blocked, her spinning kick sails over my head, she's certainly limber. She keeps rotating and tries a high crescent with her other foot, not a bad move but she hesitates, which telegraphs it. I grab her ankle, sweep my foot under her planted leg, she's back on her butt again.
"Pick it up Student Lee."
She remains a blank, that's good, she's not scared, she's not angry. More hand strikes, these harder and faster, good, now we're getting somewhere. A front kick catches me in the gut, I fold into it, down strike her shin hard, not enough to break, hard enough to let her know she left it hanging out too long. A ridge hand comes at my neck, I snatch her wrist and twist, pull her around until her back is to me, then I kick her backside and send her sprawling face down in the dirt.
"Get up, get busy."
She does a pushup, flips one eighty and to her feet, impressive move, the owl is on to something.
I shift gears, go on attack, it's all she can do to keep me from beating her senseless. I'm not going to do it of course, I'm finding out if she surrenders. She doesn't. She takes it, gets in a couple of healthy strikes of her own, much more intense, well delivered.
We keep it up for ten full contact minutes, at the end she's standing, just barely, but she's upright.
I bow, "Not bad. Clean yourself up, then find me, I'll be in the office or the garden."
She bows, limps off, Master Kaiser comes over, "She's been restraining herself. You have begun to break her of it."
"Yes, you caught the scent, I got help from a friend, we've outed her and she will be a better Disciple for it."
Master Kaiser, "So Master Li knew of her skill."
"He had his suspicions, an owl cleared it up for me."
"Master Li and his birds, you talk to an owl, speak to the Abbess without words" he shakes his head, "if I wasn't in the temple, people outside would put me away and make me take pills."
"I'm out in that world, it's crazier there."
He smiles and nods, returns to his students, I don't really need to go to the office, Janah awards promotions as Abbess. I go back to the garden to see David and Manolo.
"We had an opportunity to use Oblivion, drops the Shadows in a blink. Hope you're careful making it."
Manolo, "Nothing gets into the atmosphere, it is heated and distilled in a sealed system, then drips directly into the vials. Breathing tiny amounts wouldn't do anything anyway. It needs to be injected, if it were ingested it might make someone sick, but stomach acid would likely remove the toxicity. That's what Miyako said."
"Good to know, what did the pigeons have to say about Student Lee?"
David, "A less elaborate version of the owl, she can do more than she shows."
"I found that out sparring with her."
Manolo, "You had a match?"
"The owl suggested we throw her out of her comfortable nest, so I did. She did well, she soon raised her bar, she's quick, still light, but so was I. She has superior reflexes and excellent body control."
Manolo, "Sounds like Master Sylk."
"Thank you, she reminded me of Nikko when we first met, quick, determined, Nikko wasn't shy about showing her stuff, but she was a black belt by then."
Student Lee comes up, she's still limping, I'd twisted her wrist and arm, she's clinching her fingers on that hand.
"Manolo, liniment please, the most potent," he goes to the lab, returns with a pint sized bottle.
I turn to Lee, "Let's go to the hut, I'll work on your strains."
We sit on the floor, I have her lower leg in my lap, her right ankle is slightly swollen. I start with cold qi.
"Your hands are like ice Master Sylk. I have worked on qi, I'm lucky to make the blood flow to the right spot."
"It takes forever to learn, then another forever to excel. It may not be your temperament, you have other skills."
"I didn't feel very skilled today, you annihilated me and barely moved doing it."
"Why have you held back in training?"
Lee, "I don't....," I look up sharply, "I mean, well, I could go much faster and longer than the others, but it seems like showing off."
"It is for you to put forth your best effort, your instructors will tell you if you are becoming arrogant. In a way, withholding is another form of arrogance, your little secret."
I shift from cold to the liniment, "It will burn for a bit, it goes away soon enough."
I see her grimace, but she doesn't moan and groan, good sign.
Lee, "I understand what you say, how having a secret can make me feel superior, or the opposite, failing to do my best insults my instructor."
"Your instructor doesn't get insulted, you insult yourself only."
I'm using cold qi on her wrist, she nods, "How did I get it so wrong?"
"We go wrong all the time. Our instructors, the masters, our Shaolin brothers and sisters are here to help us see it when we don't, help us stand when we fall. Now that you have seen your error, you can fix it by applying all your skill to the gung fu you are learning."
I switch the wrist from qi to liniment, knowing what to expect this time, she doesn't react, accepts the stinging heat.
"Let pain flow through, you need not give it a home. Pain is part of training, welcome it as a sign you are not just floating along. We are never more alert than when we are in pain, use it."
Lee, "That's true, yes, it feels right to look at it that way, I am grateful for your help Master Sylk, to take time with only a student."
I cock my head at her, she laughs, hand over her mouth as a young girl will do, "I'm at it again aren't I?'
"At least you caught yourself. Let's go back to the training area, you should be able to walk, no limp, flex your fingers and twist your hand."
She does, "Gee, doesn't hurt at all," she stands, tests her ankle, "I am good to go, thank you Master Sylk, for my injury and my healing."
We make our way back through the bamboo, wave at David and Manolo, on to the training ground. Morning training is over, lunch will be in a few minutes.
"Let's go to the office for a second."
Janah is at the desk, stands when we enter, "Student Lee, Daphne giving you a hard time?"
"She did, then she fixed it, her qi is amazing."
Janah takes a seat on one of the cushions that dot the floor, invites the girl to take another.
"I'm going to check on lunch prep, see you in a bit."
Lee is the last of the four to be promoted, Janah talked to the other three while I was working over the girl, who will be Disciple Lee by lunchtime.
Francisco is slicing bread, pots of soup simmer, brown rice steaming, chopped vegetables sizzle in the big skillets, "Master Sylk, joining us for lunch today?"
Students scurry around with plates, the long tables are set, they take out pots of tea. Monks begin filing in. There is no talking, only the scrape of benches and utensils. We eat in silence, there is a free hour afterwards, then hard gung fu in the afternoon.
Disciple Lee comes in with Janah, spots me in the kitchen, she hustles in, jumps into my arms, her legs around my waist, she smiling to beat the band, knows not to say anything. I give her a healthy squeeze, stroke her cheek. She unwinds and returns to the dining hall.
Janah, She's so happy, I'm sure she wanted to squeal her delight when she saw you.
It can't be wrong to feel happy about such a long awaited event. She never asked about promotion the senior disciples say, not even obliquely, like 'how long does it take, what are the requirements?'
No, apart from the one thing, she has been exemplary. She made it clear that she understood her error, that you helped her see it. She thinks Master Sylk has magical healing and mystical gung fu skill.
Well then, such insight deserves promotion.
Uh huh, use your mystical skill to bring me soup and vegetables, no rice today.