Chapter Sixty One III
I don’t want to get married, I don’t see the point.
But I loved going to Chan and Ning’s wedding.
Particularly the bit about dressing up and going to parties.
A Chinese Buddhist wedding isn’t too complicated, there are formalities about gift giving to the parents, a party the night before, the bride does not attend. She doesn’t see her intended until the wedding day. One of the relatives brought a young boy to jump on the bridal bed, to bring luck with fertility. They exchanged vows at the temple to the great joy of all the monks. Master Tan came down in full regalia and stood with Janah as the blessings were bestowed and vows exchanged. There were fireworks and dances. Mrs. Epstein is one up on her society pals again, a Buddhist wedding in the Shaolin Temple. You couldn’t buy a ticket at any price.
Janah and I give them a calligraphy of Chan and Ning, Kara painted a piece she titled “United.” Black and Sonia came in from upstate.
Janah insisted Chan go on a honeymoon after the first week in Chan’s apartment, there had to be some nod to American custom. We pack them off to the airport for a tour of Beijing and Shanghai for three weeks. Ning’s family arranged for the couple to meet relatives. They’d also see David and perhaps visit one or two temples. Regrettably, Shaolin in China has become a shell of itself, part Shaolin, part tourist attraction. David would not stay in China beyond Chan’s visit. He is going to Darussalam, then to India.
At the airport Ning hugs Janah a long time, “My new family is so beautiful, my husband credits everything to his White Angel. I share him with you gratefully and share his love for you. Your care has brought me the love of a lifetime, and the love of your wonderful family, I am forever in your debt.”
Janah, “I have only one request, sister Ning. That you are strong and loving for our brother. He has things ahead that will require his training and skill. You are his comfort and his refuge. You and the children you will bear are his first family now, then his sisters, we give up our place to you with love.”
Ning’s up on tiptoes to kiss us both, “We’ll be back soon, thank you sisters, thank my new mothers for me please.”
She and Chan go through the maze to get to the metal detectors, the first of a zillion checks and detectors they’d endure. They don’t mind, they are together.
An hour later, back at the apartment, Nikko and me sitting on the mat, Janah brings tea from the kitchen and joins us.
“Good job Ange Blanc. You and Mrs. Fong set up a match made in whatever Ch’an heaven turns out to be.”
Janah, “Mrs. Fong made it look like something between a Hitchcock movie and a John LeCarre novel, all duplicity and intrigue until the family she had in mind all along came to her. The family knew they would come and Mrs. Fong knew it as well. She had to do the dance of a deep search and the appearance of careful consideration on both sides for what was mostly a foregone conclusion. Mrs. Fong knew who she wanted from the time I brought it up. She’d never admit it, but the thought of a spouse for Chan probably occurred to her before it occurred to me. It’s not like I think in terms of spouses.”
Nikko, “She’s almost Japanese, which I would never tell her.”
“It’s a great compliment from you, she’d gripe and be flattered that it was you who said it.”
“Sis is like that. You guys can talk about nothing for hours, over days, and then work in whatever it was you wanted to get around to in the first place. Nobody gets in a rush, no one gets antsy. I admire it, I can’t do it.”
Janah, “Not your temperament. There is a word in Japanese -- gaman -- that means quiet patience. It's difficult to translate, it's kind of like you wait out a situation, do what you can and not look back. You don't make a big deal out of it.”
“So I’m too upfront, spill it all at the first meeting, get it done.”
“I wouldn't say 'too,' there’s a place for direct. Other times we need Nishiko’s two hundred year attitude. She can plan for tomorrow and she can plan for two hundred years from now, her unknown progeny to come, Chan’s children’s, children’s, children. One day they will be told stories of their great, great, great aunt Nishiko and how she built the family empire out of a couple of artists and a few real estate deals and the contributions of Sis, grandmothers Mrs. E., Mrs. Fong and Murakami. A family that shouldn’t have happened, American, Japanese, Chinese and the Korean influence of Master Kim. In there someplace will be a white haired girl and an incredible martial artist she gave her heart to. We’ll be bit players, the dark side of the family. I’d rather the violence not become a prominent part of the epic.”
“Being an asterisk in a story like that is fine with me. I surprise myself by saying it, attention hog that I am. Speaking of, I want my honey’s attention now, my sister Nishiko can script the long term history as she wishes.”
Janah, “Everything is as it should be, you are exactly you, Nikko is exactly Nikko, both perfect.”
Nishiko, “I’ll write memoirs one day, I keep notes now, on a secured site on the web, no paper. It’s an outline, no one who didn’t know could tell it had any real counterpart. It will be the source of my account later on. It’s not for publication anyway. It’s for Chan to give to his grandchildren, Black to his. They can add their own recollections and stories if they wish, the parts of their lives we don’t see. Nothing about mentaling of course.”
“I wondered what you were up to on your computer. My life story. How thoughtful.”
I kiss Nikko on the neck, then the cheek. Nikko nuzzles my ear, kisses the lobe gently.
Our affection is so natural, it makes Janah smile, “Tomorrow we start going to early meditation at the temple. Your three years are up, you can return. Nikko has work. You can cook at the temple and I’ll find something to do. Nikko can call us when she’s finished and we’ll have lunch, or train or whatever. Friday’s are spoken for with kendo, this is the new Monday through Thursday plan, refocusings aside. If Nikko needs more or less time at work, we’ll rearrange a bit.”
“You’re going to get up at 4 a.m.?”
Janah, “Yes. I want to be at the temple for work with Hue and Tan. Chan’s gone, Tan’s out of students, so he gets us back. I miss my friends, my students, digging around the garden.”
Nikko, “When Chan returns?”
“I’m leaving that up to him. He’s not going to work in the dry cleaning business. I suspect, until Ning gets pregnant, she’ll work, but start winding her role down. He’ll either stay here or go with you to the property. He’s fond of his Japanese sister. C-mom might abduct him for a weight training partner. He’ll keep himself busy, it takes nothing to keep him occupied.”
Chapter Sixty Two III
One day I’m celebrating birth, the next I’m contemplating death.
Good thing I’m organized. Even better that I ignore dissonance.
Life is complex, what can I say?
“Well, it wasn’t all sightseeing,” I’m referring to the fact that Ning returns from the extended honeymoon pregnant. Ning’s family, the whole extended family is exuberant. The first grandchild on the way, right away. Mrs. Fong is actually subdued, she brought so much joy in bringing the two together, then for such a blessing so soon.
Her reputation in Chinatown is already practically mythical, now she is a living legend. Clearly she has a gift of foresight, families converge on her to match their children. Mrs. Fong takes it in stride. She tells them all to go away. She did a favor for the White Angel and her little brother by bringing them a flower of China. She sees it as small repayment for the thing the priest and White Angel did for her when she was almost killed by thieves. The story keeps anxious parents from pestering her to find matches for their children.
She once asked Master Sung what it was about us, how we seemed to know the other’s intent instantly, he replied only, “Two hearts beat as one.”
She knew her old friend well enough to know she would get no more explanation, no amount of her browbeating would move him. She let it go. The bond is clear to her even if the mechanics aren’t. What did she care for explanations? We are what we are, a joy in her old age.
As is inevitable, the celebration of life regresses to the mean.
Mrs. Epstein, “Hi Janah. This is a business call dear. Do you think you might drop over sometime in the next few days?”
Janah, “Tomorrow or the next, morning, afternoon or evening?”
Mrs. E., “Tomorrow evening would be perfect. I’ll get something for dinner, Chan coming?”
Janah, “No, he’ll stay with Ning, just girls.”
Mrs. E, “See you then, seven.”
We walk into the Epstein home at seven on the dot. Over the years, Mrs. Epstein has orientalized the décor, not that everything is lacquered or enameled, no paper lanterns. It’s more atmospheric, fewer things around, not minimalist, getting there. Our calligraphy started it, then as she began to redecorate over the next year, found herself subtracting, not adding.
Mrs. Epstein, “Hello dears, come in, come in. I have tea ready, there’s coke, wine or champagne.”
I have a coke, Nikko red wine, Janah champagne with Dr. and Mrs. E, we settle in Dr. Epstein’s office.
Dr. Epstein, “I want to talk this one over with you, the Society can’t decide if it’s in our purview. I thought we might discuss it and either go or pass, depending. We’ve been made aware of the activities of what’s commonly called a hit man, a contract killer. These types are sociopaths the used to be attached to a gang, or family as the mafia used to say. Now there’s a market for independent contractors, particularly with lots of rained killers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. An independent sometimes uses an intermediary who deals with the client. The intermediary gets the details, photographs, location, if there’s a timetable that has to be met, and the one who is paid. The contact collects half the fee upfront, gives the hit man the things he needs to know, collects the rest when the job’s done. Everything is in cash, you don’t want your contract killer on your Visa card. The contact may have three or four people they use for jobs, working with only one is troublesome, one guy may not like to travel long distances, or is on another job, or even sick. Plus things don’t always go smoothly, it can be a high turnover occupation. On the other side, some killers use two contacts, theoretically doubling their chances of regular work. And doubling the chances of being found out I suppose.”
Janah, “You can hire one on the dark web, I’ve seen the postings. Pay in bitcoins with encrypted wallets. The money goes in, but isn’t released until the job is done. It’s safe for both parties. They even have sites that mingle bitcoins for a small transactions fee. If you buy bitcoins with a card for instance, the number of the coin, which isn’t a coin, just a string of digits can be traced to you. Mingling bitcoins means the bitcoins paid to the contractor aren’t the same ones you bought.”
Dr. Epstein, “Good Lord, how sophisticated. I knew of the dark web for child porn, terrorist or neo nazi sites. Some of our patients go to chat rooms or forums about their disorders. They have them for anorexics, not to help cure, to encourage anorexia. There are even how to suicide sites. But hiring a hitman?”
“There’s a site called Assassination Market, a list of names to be assassinated. You put up money, then pick the date of whoever’s assassination. If the person is killed on the day you pick, you win the pot. Again, pay in bitcoins.”
“But that’s just a kind of game isn’t it?”
“Who knows. What if someone posts a name, puts up money. Others add to it to play. When the pot gets big enough, he kills the target on the right day, guaranteeing a win.”
“I see what you mean. Wonder if I should visit, see if I’m on the list?”
“I checked everyone in our extended family, we’re fine for now.”
Nikko asks, “Back to contract killers. Is the money good. Is there that much work?”
“Nobody knows. Some of these people are good at making deaths look accidental, or the results of robberies or muggings. Ease of access to illegal drugs helps, they make it look like a deal gone bad, or an overdose. Our police friends tell us lots of killings don’t ever show up as contract jobs. A wild estimate is a guy might make a hundred thousand a year, presuming he can command twenty to forty thousand a job. There’s the advantage of it all being tax free.”
Janah, “So what’s our end of this?”
“We’ve been approached to refocus a hit man.”
“Wow, that’s interesting. How did this come up? Never mind, I don’t need to know, it doesn’t matter. The question is, does it fall under our guidelines?”
“We’ve been back and forth on it. Our refocusings have been with guys who annoyed innocents, who made themselves a nuisance or a chronic harm to people weaker than themselves. Can someone who is willing to be a contract killer be refocused? We don’t want to become killers of contract killers, so we have to convince them being out of the business is better than staying in it.”
“Why don’t we just expose him and get him arrested?”
Dr. Epstein, “That’s pretty much where we’re headed. To do that, we have to catch him at his job, attempt to prevent the murder and supply admissible physical evidence that he either attempted or clearly intended to kill someone. On top of that, we aren’t available to testify, or even be identified. All this to refocus somebody who kills for a living, not some pool hall operator or local punk who beats his wife. If he encounters witnesses, he kills them too.”
“My vows as a priest allow me to kill to protect innocents. A hitman doesn’t care why someone want someone dead, he just wants the money. I can just remove this guy from the planet.”
Janah, “ Let’s see if we can do it without bloodshed. It’s an interesting challenge. Can we get Surveillance to track him to the moment of truth, or as near to it as they can get? We’ll be in the neighborhood too. Between us, we can figure out who he’s supposed to hit. He’s going to follow his target, look for a good spot. We’ll follow him following. Between Surveillance and us, we should get enough video to put the two of them together, verify he’s stalking his target, then intervene before he carries out the contract. It will be tricky, it has to be obvious he’s got murder on his mind.”
“What if we simply go see him and explain we’ll out him if he doesn’t mend his ways?”
Dr. Epstein, “You could try it, I suppose. I am told the top tier of these types have fake everything, several identities, passports, bank accounts. Unlike our normal targets, they can more easily disappear and reemerge as someone else. I guess there are some with families and regular jobs that allow them lots of flexibility. If this is one of those, then outing him would likely serve our purpose. He’ll have a life, perhaps a family he wants to maintain. Those types are more likely to work for a gang, the mob or what’s left of it. We don’t care much about refocusing them for the obvious reason.”
Janah, “Bad guys killing bad guys over territory or revenge.”
“Yes. There aren’t innocents. I know that innocents get hurt or even killed as, what’s the word, collateral damage. They don’t set out to do any harm to innocents. It’s not ongoing intimidation of a girlfriend or child abuse. It’s maybe a fine line, the Society can’t fix everything. We try to deal with people who are constantly hurting people weaker than they are, in no position to fight back. We can’t refocus every drug dealer for a turf battle, or even every mob boss for ordering a hit on another boss. Those people got into the business of their own volition and take their chances. So, where are we?”
Janah, “We can assume for the moment our target isn’t a family guy. If he is, Daphne and Nikko will simply go visit him and tell him he’s done or exposed, no sweat. Surveillance can confirm his status. Once we know we’re talking about an independent unattached contract killer, then we’ll work with Surveillance until we have him stalking his target. We have lots of ways to silence him before he pulls the trigger.”
“What about his target? We can assume whoever wants him dead still wants him dead.”
“Can’t fix that. He’ll be on notice someone tried to kill him. He can hire a bodyguard, ask for police protection, hope that whoever hired the killer is found out. I suspect once the facts are out, the parties involved will be evident. Nobody hires a hit man to kill someone randomly. It’s going to be someone the killer’s target knows and he’ll be able to figure out in whose interest it is for him to be dead.”
Dr. Epstein, “So you want to go ahead?”
Janah, “Let’s have Surveillance follow the guy. His jobs aren’t all in his own town. Probably better if they’re all someplace else. That means he doesn’t need to be watched too hard until he leaves. Where’s he live?”
“Actually that’s another question. He’s local.”
“He lives in Manhattan?”
“Brooklyn. We haven’t done any surveillance since we hadn’t decided anything yet.”
Janah, “We have the obvious tactical dilemma.”
Dr. Epstein, “Because he’s local?’
“No, that’s not the dilemma. If we have him under surveillance and he packs up and leaves, what then? Surveillance could actually wind up watching a murder when they get where they’re going.”
“I see what you mean. Any suggestions?”
“All we can do is be ready. When Surveillance finds out where he’s going, we go. If we get there in time to prevent him from killing someone, good. If we can’t, well, we weren’t going to prevent it by not going. Surveillance is in no position to intervene, that’s not what they’re equipped to do. If it’s really dicey, they can contact the target anonymously and alert him, or her. We can safely assume the killer doesn’t just fly into town, drive directly to the target and kill him. We have a cushion of at least a few hours to days.”
Dr. Epstein, “What if it’s a plane trip away and he does it within an hour or two of arriving?”
“Then someone will be dead regardless of what we do. He was going to be dead if we’d never heard about it. Daphne and I can be in two places at once, but to protect anyone else, we have to know where the places are, and we have to operate on the assumption we have a little time once the assassin gets where he’s going. We’ll come up with something, I just don’t have a clue what it is yet. The fall back, if we can’t make it in time, is for Surveillance to call the target and whisper in his ear, even call the cops. He can at least seek protection. We don’t stop the bad guy, at least his target lives.”
“Okay. Then unless someone thinks of something else between now and then, your team stays ready and we see what happens. As you said, presumably he stakes out his victim, doesn’t just fly in, make an appointment and shoot. There’s a pile of assumptions, they’re fairly good ones though. You make up things as you go along anyway.”
Janah, “It’s always like that. When the fight starts, plans go out the window, it’s all improv.”
We adjourn to the buffet, talk shifts to more pleasant matters of the baby and family.
Mrs. Epstein, “Susan tells me a certain young lady had turned out to be quite the nanny.”
“Janah might give up her day job. Between her and the moms, that kid’s going to be the brat of brats, the worst brat, a bratwurst.”
“It’s just such fun, he’s so adorable, little thing. Don’t let Sis and Daphne mislead you, there are other nannies hovering around frequently. Not surprisingly, Chris. She’s over every day, the baby gets sort of lost in those big arms, then there’s Nikko, who knows more than a few Japanese lullabies. At least with Lacy, who is more David’s size, you can actually see him when she holds him. When Chris has him you have to assume he’s in there someplace. Sometimes we even let Ning hold her child. Chan doesn’t stand a chance, poor baby. I think he does night duty just to be able to see his own kid.”
Mrs. Epstein, “I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
Nikko nibbles an invisible piece of cheese, “Worse.”
Dr. Epstein, “Then he’s the luckiest child on the planet. Lots of moms didn’t hurt any of you guys. Ning seems to take it in stride. The couple of times I’ve been around, she seems to have adjusted well.”
“Ning is total cool. Mrs. Fong hit exactly the right note. She’s energetic, not hyper. We decided she’s gets to use all the words Nikko and Chan don’t. She’s got this remarkable elocution, when she talks, it’s like listening to a prose poet with the refinement of, oh say, a Diana Rigg.”
Mrs. Epstein, “I remember those television programs, she played a cool aloof secret agent, what was it?”
“The Avengers. We have the DVD set. Diana Rigg was the third full time partner, before that it changed frequently. One stretch it was Honor Blackman, she played Pussy Galore in the Bond film Octopussy. After Emma Peel left, the new partner had too much to live up to, the program began to slide.”
Mrs. Epstein, “I remember that one, what was her name?”
“Tara King, in the show, her real name was Linda Thompson.”
Mrs. Epstein, ‘You’re quite a fan apparently.”
“If I had a role model, besides Miss Alva, it would be Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. She was also good in the British series Mrs. Bradley, but the plots were thin. Sort of bad Agatha Christie. Diana Rigg carried the program. Despite her ability, it didn’t last long.”
Janah, “Yes, Daphne’s got it, Ning really is a pleasure to listen to, seductive with tempo. She’s an unflustered mom, she shares the baby like it’s her third or fourth, not remotely clingy. It warms her that her baby will always be cared for no matter what happens. She finds it reassuring, not frightening. I don’t find she’s very frightenable. She’s too smooth for drama.”
Mrs. Epstein, “What has Chan decided, anything?”
Janah, “You mean about the Society?”
“I guess that too, I sort of meant what does he want to do, or is it too soon to decide? It really has been kind of a whirlwind for him after leaving the temple. One year he’s cloistered in a routine, the next he’s got a wife and a child.”
“The temple is restrictive as to place, it isn’t that restrictive as to his studies, just the opposite. It’s not really like he went from one small world to another big one, without some time to be, what, wild and free? Chan has no interest in that. David is a little more like that, he’s out having his world travels. Chan, well…”
“What Janah isn’t saying is that there is no chance Chan is going more than a mile from her.”
Mrs. Epstein, “And Ning?”
“Janah talked to her, to make sure she understood she is not in competition for Chan’s affection. Ning sees Chan’s clear respect for Janah, the strength of his commitment, as a good sign. The way he behaved during courtship sealed the deal. She gave a fair amount of the credit for Chan’s caring and respect for her to Janah’s influence. Janah is an ally, not an enemy. I guess Ning figuring out Janah’s a lesbian didn’t hurt any either.”
Mrs. E laughs, “Always the realist. So, I’d almost forgotten my original question, does Chan have a plan, or is he more like Janah?”
Janah, “I’m going to talk it over with Chris. Chan may teach a few days of more active self defense, more streetwise defenses for the students. I think lots of the women will go for it, and it will add a dimension to Chris’ school. We have to approach it carefully, we don’t want the women believing they’re ready to handle a bar fight, or two muggers. We think he can teach them to deal with quick things they can do to disable attackers and get away, or life and death things. By making himself the attacker, they’ll also learn why you just leave if you can. When they find out they can’t do any damage to him, they won’t get too cocky in a real life situation. Ning is technically employed by her family, health insurance is covered by them. They don’t have rent or utilities, neither of them owns a car, Chan doesn’t even drive. We’re going to send him to a school.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Can I do anything financially?”
Janah, “How very kind. I guess it depends on how many babies they make, we can cover them up to the first 3 or four; after that, college could get pricey. We have a few years.”
Mrs. E smiles, “Oh we’ll see to it they all get through school. By that time Susan will be able to buy a college.”
Chapter Sixty Three III
Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith
Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, Sympathy For The Devil
Nothing happens with our hit man for a month. We do what we do, train, go to the temple, help with the baby. Ning took over care of the apartments, we come home to sparkling clean everything. We’d done it ourselves, three of us doing a cleaning job didn’t take long. We’d considered a housekeeper, Sis has a good one. Janah doesn’t want someone traipsing around our place because we keep our refocusing gear here, and she has a cabinet of curiosities, namely, prescription and illegal drugs for our work. It stays locked away, but still.
Ning insisted, she says it keeps her occupied while the baby slept and for us to just enjoy it. She considers it productive exercise and she feels some obligation for free living expenses. Janah decided to let it slide. Ning seems genuinely happy to do it, I sure couldn’t find a reason to object. I’m a neat freak and Ning’s work parallels my own.
Finally, word comes, the Surveillance team tracked the hit man long enough to have a feel for his routines, and something happened that doesn’t fit his solitary lifestyle. He left his apartment with a small valise, went to the airport and flew to Orlando Florida. Surveillance followed him to a nondescript motel, tagged his rental car with a tracking device, and followed him to an office building in downtown Orlando, then to a neighborhood in the suburbs. That revealed his target, a businessman in his early fifties. He works at a software company called Nanosoft. They followed the target into the building, heard several people at the reception area greet him as Mr. Campbell. A check of the incorporation documents revealed him to be Jackson Campbell, CEO of Nanosoft. The company is private. There had been off and on rumors that a couple of major corporations had an interest in buying it. Nothing had come of it and it seemed unlikely the companies involved would resort to murder.
A little digging reveals tensions within the immediate family. Surveillance let it drop, any further research might reveal their presence. That could either scare the parties into dropping the contract, or speed it up, no way to tell. Informing Campbell that he’s a target settles the immediate problem, surely to Campbell’s relief. Surveillance could even demonstrate that the hitter is following Campbell. That would likely scare him off, it wouldn’t result in any prosecutions. If he was questioned he could claim he was hired to check up on Campbell’s morals, to follow him for competitive reasons. He wouldn’t even get fined for stalking. He hadn’t approached the target, spoken to him or asked for anything. At best he’d just lay low until the dust settled and resume his career after a brief vacation.
The Society hires Blue Sky to fly us to Orlando, on arrival we take over from Surveillance. Janah drives a nondescript rental, Nikko rides with her, I drive another. Surveillance supplied us with a half dozen license plates we swap around every day, we trade in one of the cars for another make and color, keep our distance from the contract agent and wait. We track him tracking Campbell from work to his home for three days. During the day, he lingers around the offices, that’s a dead end, Campbell never goes out to lunch. His routine is routine. To work, to home. On Thursday, the fourth day, one routine changes, the killer’s.
Janah, “He’s parked down the block from Campbell’s place, one street over. He went around back, I can’t tell if he’s entered the house. If Campbell has a security system, and our man is inside, he’s either defeated it or had the code. If he has the code, that means the person who hired him is close to Campbell. Guess we’ll find out later.”
I’m in the other car, two blocks away, “Well, well, isn’t that convenient? Surveillance says his wife went on a trip last week. You don’t suppose the little wifey has it in for her husband?”
We think about it, I continue, “Our guy won’t make it look like a break in then. He’d have to kill the guy, break a window or door, set off the alarm, then get away. Does the security company automatically know if it’s off, or does it only alert them if it’s on and there’s a break in, or somebody forgets the code or whatever? Do they know what time it was turned on or off?”
“I read about systems, you can get 24 hour monitoring, they know when it’s on and off. Our guy would have to disarm the system when he gets in the house, just like the homeowner, then turn it on again, which means the security company would know someone turned it off then back on.”
“So if the wife is out of town and Campbell is at work, then who’s in the house?”
“Exactly. Of course, if there’s no alarm, then it could be the housekeeper, a friend with the code, something legitimate. If he wants to make it look like an accident, slip in the shower thing, the alarm system time monitor will give away the little secret. He can't turn the alarm back on while he's in the house. Campbell might suspect something if he comes in and the alarm isn't asking for the code. That means either he’s going to do a plain old murder and try and pass it off as a robber who got surprised by the homeowner. More likely, he’s not in the house right now.”
“What, he’s hiding in the bushes?”
“Must be, he’s not in the car with us, he’s not in your backseat, at least I hope not.”
“Nothing there but empty coffee cups. Want me to find out where he is?”
“Yep. It’s six, our guy usually gets home around six thirty. If there’s trouble in paradise, maybe Campbell doesn’t come home right away, but that hasn’t been his pattern. I guess our killer thinks so too, he’s just going to wait.”
“What if the wife comes back? It’d look suspicious to change her return flights.”
“I suspect she went someplace long enough to give him time. If it were me, I’d go to one of those month long rejuvenation spa’s, then get the horrible phone call about the accident while I’m out of town. There won’t be anyone I know wondering about the smug satisfaction on my mud-packed face.”
Janah giggles, “Now I’m wanting to go to a spa when we finish this.”
“Power of suggestion, let’s do it.”
“Later, I want to get back to the baby and Ning.”
“Mommy hormones kicking in?”
“I love the baby, I don’t want a baby. I got two to take care of now.”
“I never felt any mommy thing in you, I’d have been surprised, you’ve surprised me occasionally.”
“I wonder what Nikko thinks?”
“You’re joking,” I laugh, “If I asked her about having a kid she’d say something like, ‘Maybe if they found a sperm-free way that didn’t involve getting fat.’”
Janah smiles, “I can hear her saying it.”
“Chan seemed okay with staying out of this one. Hard to tell though. You suggested he stay home, he stayed home. If you had suggested he come, he’d be in the car with you now.”
Janah, “We didn’t need him for this, no point in subjecting Ning to the worry. She doesn’t know why we travel, it would make for anxious moments just now, particularly if somebody comes back hurt. I don’t know yet how much to tell her, I’m still thinking it over.”
“I’ll go see what our bad boy is up to. Is a hit man a serial killer?”
“Not really. A serial killer tends to do the same kind of victim, the same way. And it isn’t for money.”
I skirt the edge of the house next door. It’s a neighborhood of fair sized homes, big lawns set apart by shrubbery, not fences, an older neighborhood, not a treeless newbie. The shrubbery is tall and full, the trees grown high with thick trunks, oak, some pine and cypress. Easier for me to slide my way silently between them in the deep twilight, the sun sinking, not gone. I make a sighting and confirm.
“He’s sitting on a chair on the back porch like he lives there. I wish he was reading a paper or something distracting, he’s just sitting, you see? Maybe I could just walk up and introduce myself.”
Janah, “Or not. He’s waiting for Campbell to get home, well protected from neighbors. Campbell can’t see him when he pulls in, he’ll hear the garage door go up. Our guy could be on him as he exits the car if he times it well. Got any ideas on how to video this?”
“I’ll get him going into the garage if that’s how he does it. We’ll know if he moves that way when Campbell comes home. I can follow him into the garage."
Campbell has the same routine every day. He doesn’t click the door down from inside his car, he uses the button on the wall as he goes in the house. Our guy will know that too. I’m hoping the plan is to take Campbell into the house and arrange an accident, not just shoot him or snap his neck in the garage. The problem is, I can’t be filming and dealing with a hitman at the same time.”
Janah, “I’ll get them from outside. There are two choices unless you can think of something. When the garage door goes up, the killer has to go in low to the passenger side, or crouched right behind the car. That means you might have to go in when the door is coming down. When you do that, the light that controls the door, the beam across the bottom will be broken and that stops the door. In a way, that works in our favor. You can’t sneak in, but he’ll be distracted by the door stopping when it’s not supposed to. If Nikko gets to Campbell, she can get him covered, while you deal with the bad guy. I don’t need to say it I guess, he’s carrying a gun, even if he plans on making the death look accidental, he knows how to use it. He may have it out from the start.”
“What if Campbell doesn’t go in the garage?”
“The killer will follow him to the front door, stick a gun in his back, and go inside with him. Both of you should be able to get them inside and under control. I’ll mental you the status. Of course, if Campbell’s going in the garage, you’ll hear the door opening as he pulls in. Either way, neutralize the hit man, we get Campbell settled down, then explain where things are. If things go badly, we’ll see if Campbell’s dead or needs help, that’s the dicey part. We have to help him if he’s alive and try to get gone before anyone from EMS shows. Let’s make this go down before the killer can do his thing.”
“Why don’t I take out the target before the target gets near his target?”
Janah, “Duh me, of course. Put him out before he gets close to Campbell. I was trying to avoid doing it in his driveway, creating a scene that someone might see. Then we have the police, potentially us trying to explain it all. That’s not our first or second choice. Let me think.”
Janah comes back online, “Okay, I saw your video of the killer sitting around the back of Campbell’s house. We have him at the scene, and we know he’s a contract killer. We have him on film following Campbell around, we’re pretty sure he’s not here to give him his Publisher’s Clearing House winnings. Suppose you swat him now, before Campbell even gets here, or just as soon as he does?”
“I think waiting until Campbell arrives makes sense. What if he’s out until late, or doesn’t come home at all?”
Janah, “Good. In the meantime, I need to think about what to tell Campbell, why we happen to be here and the rest of it. He’s got to know somebody’s trying to kill him.”
“We can’t guarantee his future safety. We can leave him with the videos I suppose, and the bad guy immobilized. He can deal with the police. Whatever he tells them about us won’t do them much good, we’ll be history, just phantoms, here then gone.”
Janah, “It’s not the best, we may not get the killers contact, or find out who’s hired him. I mean, his wife’s gone, it doesn’t mean she’s the cause of this.”
“Look, we save a life. We put the bad guy out of business. We can’t easily fiddle around trying to find out the whole chain.”
“Okay, when Campbell shows, whack the killer and we’ll all meet for cocktails with the man who should be dead.”
Janah mentals me, a car is slowing, the garage door begins to rise. It must have occurred to the killer that Campbell might not use the garage door. He’s moved to the side of the house, not the front, just where he can see someone turn in, or at least hear a car door open. Even though Campbell used the garage door every time he came home, he didn’t want this to be the exception. It doesn’t matter. Before he can take a step to the front, I have him unconscious and am wrapping picture wire around his hands behind his back.
“Hitman got hit. He’s resting comfortably on the side of the house. I’ll wake him up when you have Campbell convinced and take him around the back way.”
Nikko and Janah knock on the front door, Campbell answers, “Can I help you?”
We’re disguised, not the outrageous stuff we use to do an in and out refocusing, just hair and eye color changes, baggy nondescript clothes, gloves, watch cap, hair braided and tucked into jackets, Janah has brown dishwater hair and tanning glop, we all have dark sunglasses.
Janah, “Yes, and we can help you. We need to come in, there’s a serious problem.”
He starts to object, Nikko pushes him back, they close the door.
Campbell, “Hey, what the… I can call the cops. What’s the meaning of this?”
Janah, “Give me a few minutes, I’ll tell you a story and give you evidence. It’s better we’re here than not.”
She explains his near short future. He starts out incredulous. It doesn’t last long, something he already knows or suspects makes the story of a contract on him, if not certain, at least a strong possibility. He tries to dance around, until I tap on the back door and introduce him to his murderer.
He watches our video of his surveillance. Hitman shuts up tight. He has no credible story as to what he’s doing following Campbell, or why he’d been sitting on his patio that very day. There’s also the matter of a garrote, a twenty-two automatic in his jacket pocket, a syringe and a vial of morphine.
Janah, “I don’t expect to get a confession, we aren’t going to beat anything out of him and I don’t plan on offering him any deals to give up the name of his contact. He may not even use one.”
Campbell, “Where do you come in, how do you, I mean….if you knew, why didn’t you just go to the cops? Or call me, or both?”
“You get suspicious, they back off and wait. You’re still in a rotten spot and no killer gets busted. Or you hire bodyguards, same end result. We had no intention of letting anything happen to you. We want you alive, we also want this joker out of business.”
Campbell is incredulous, “So you used me as bait!”
“You were already a target. Bait would be if we didn’t know who he was and were trying to flush him out. Bait is what is sacrificed to catch the game. We knew who the game was, you were in far less danger with us than without us.”
Campbell looks dubious, then could see her point, “I guess.”
“You still have a problem. Somebody wants you dead.”
“I can’t believe….what am I saying? I’m 99% certain, I just never thought she’d go to this length, greedy bitch.”
“We know your wife is on an extended trip. Perfect time for a terminal divorce. If it’s someone else, then it’s coincidence, a strange one.”
“It’s no coincidence. She’s been having affairs since forever. I don’t care, we’re married only on paper. She wants me to sell the business, get rich then file for divorce. As long as I own the company, the assets are mine, not hers. Once I sell, the cash is joint property. For her, it’s simple economics. She thinks she’s in love with some lawyer, one of several she contacted trying for a way around the prenup. If I’m dead, she cashes out. I have minor partners, they have the right to buy out my portion in the event of my death, it’s a steep price. They’re doing nicely now, with what they’d have to pay, it’s better for them with me alive and kicking. Plus I plan to parcel it out to them over the years and ease myself out. That’s far down the road, ten years at least. My wife didn’t want to wait. She wants it all and right now. She nagged me to sell, when she saw it was getting her nowhere, she dropped it. I knew she was fishing around for help. I didn’t grasp the depth of the water she was fishing in.”
Janah, “Here’s where we are. We don’t want anything further to do with this, no police, no testimony, we don’t exist. You can tell the police how you got to this point, and we’ll leave you the video evidence. I see your technology is current. My friend will download the videos to a thumb, with a backup on your laptop, we’ll keep ours. This joker may never tell his story. It won’t matter, he’ll have a heck of a time getting back into business, this is going to make the rounds of his acquaintances when it hits the news. When my friend is done, call the cops, your lawyer. We’ll wait around to make sure the police are on the way. Don’t do anything dumb, like try and force the story out of him, or worse, become a killer yourself. Bear in mind, we know exactly what went down. We’re not in his business, nobody died, let’s keep it that way. Someone, not us, will keep an eye on you for a while. Get your own protection anyway, until this is settled.”
“Can I hire you? Clearly you have resources, you’re already in.”
“Sorry, no. We don’t work for hire. A fluke piece of information made us aware of a problem. I know it seems like things got too close for comfort. You weren’t in much danger, nothing like you were if we’d hadn’t come along. We weren’t going to let him hurt you. His lawyer will come up with some story about why he followed you, what he was doing here. Maybe the cops connect him to your wife, she must have made an advance payment, check her accounts. The district attorney could offer him a deal, get all the fish in the net. This isn’t perfect for you, I understand. It’s better than it could be.”
Campbell slumps to the couch and shakes his head, “This is…bizarre. She really hired someone to kill me. Christ, she had a comfortable life, she got to do what she wanted with whoever she wanted. We haven’t been anything but under the same roof for the last couple of years. How stupid is she?”
“Mr. Campbell, there is no end to human stupidity.”
Campbell nods, “No, there’s not, is there?”
He sighs, “I need a drink.”
Janah, “Can’t blame you. Call your lawyer and the police first. Don’t have them show up with a cocktail in your hand. Have a drink with your attorney later.”
“You’re right. Okay, the lawyer, then the cops.”
I finish with the video. Campbell calls his attorney and asks him to come over with no explanation other than it’s serious. He calls 911 and we disappear into the night. We left Campbell on a chair in his den with a hog tied killer on his carpet staring blankly at the couch. Janah and Nikko drive off, I wait in the back of the yard, can see into the den, nothing happens, the two men don’t move. The police car pulls up, lights flashing at the front of the house, I blend into the bushes and emerge half a dozen houses down on the next street over, climb into the rental and drive away.
We pack up at the motel, leave one car for Transportation to deal with and drive the eighty five miles to Tampa, check into a Hampton. Since there’s no time for Transportation to do the actual check in, Janah picks up the key, mentals me the room number. Nikko goes directly to the room, I come in later. It’s practically midnight, the desk clerk isn’t even at the desk, no one saw two additional girls. In the morning, there’s a different rental, key under the mat. We leave at six a.m. and head to Miami, about 280 miles of interstate, arrive at noon, catch an afternoon commercial flight to New York and are in the apartment by seven that night.
Janah’s on the couch giving the baby a bottle, Chan on one side, Ning on the other, the baby busy downing dinner, then burp, potty, bedtime. Ning is sitting by the crib in her place, Nikko singing softly, the baby silently enjoying his private concert. Janah, Chan and I are at the table in our apartment.
Janah, “What do you want to tell Ning?”
Chan, “Already told her. She is good wife. Husband tells wife, wife tells no one. She will never mention it. When we travel, husband is gone on business. When he’s back, he’s back. Her mother will never ask, even if she did, Ning would never say. Only meaningless gossip, tell silly stories, play with baby.”
“She’s okay with it?”
“She’s okay with husband. I told her I work for White Angel, work is important, perhaps dangerous. I will always return to her and my son. She smiles, she knows I will. Doesn’t say any more. Nothing to say. I will always come back to Ning and David.”
Janah, “Good enough for me. Ning is special.”
Chan says nothing, Janah says, “You must always return to her, you have vowed. Remember your vow when we are on the road, nothing foolish. Daphne and Nikko can take care of me, only Chan can properly take care of Ning and baby.”
Chan, “Everyone comes back, we take care of everyone.”
“Sounds like a Japanese girl I know.”
Janah smiles, it does sound familiar. She goes with Chan to see the baby as he sleeps, hugs Ning and returns to the apartment with Nikko. We are alone and ready to relax.
The trip had been mild, not filled with danger, still nerve wracking. All the “what ifs.” Should we have told the killer’s target in advance? Was it up to us to decide he should be at risk? It was his life on the line. It’s one thing for us to walk into a dangerous situation. Janah hadn’t put an innocent in a dangerous situation, but she had left him in one to get the job done. Suppose we hadn’t taken the job? The innocent is dead. The wife is rich, the bad guys walk.
Besides, the killer wasn’t on guard for someone stalking him, he’s always the stalker. Like our other jobs, invisibility until action worked in our favor. We show up out of the blue. We don’t have to get a search warrant, read anyone their rights, or haul anyone in for booking and a shot at a judge and jury. In this case, my training sealed his fate, he never quite understood what happened. One second he’s going to kill a man, go home and collect the other half of his fee. The next second he’s unconscious, then awake breathing ammonia. Then three women talking about him like he wasn’t there, then cops, then his lawyer. Bail denied until the judge could try and sort out what the hell had happened and who the three angels of mercy and vengeance were. The killer wondered if he was trapped in a miniseries nightmare.
A week later Dr. Epstein tells Janah the hit man is trying to plea bargain by revealing his contact, who could then do a deal and out the wife. They are hot after the wife, who is more than merely suspicious. It’s only a matter of time, the reality of prison will get the players vying for most cooperative. Campbell hired a bodyguard and increased security in his home and office. With his wife under intense scrutiny, it’s unlikely he continues to be in danger. The Society would follow the events another month then drop it. The legal wrangling would take forever, that and the publicity guarantees Campbell’s safety.
Chapter Sixty Four III
Mrs. Big Nose: Oh, it's blessed are the MEEK!
Oh, I'm glad they're getting something, they have a hell of a time.
Reg: What Jesus fails to appreciate is that it's the meek who are the problem.
Monty Python, Life of Brian
Finally, a stretch of time where the we can enjoy our expanding family. We narrowed temple visits to mornings twice a week, Nikko has her tenants trained to e-mail, a quality maintenance system in place, and the city found other landlords to annoy with contradictory regulations. Mrs. Fong put one of her personal properties under Nikko’s management and raised her salary. The old lady wouldn’t do that on a whim. Nikko graduated magna cum laude from Fong’s Chinatown Business School, Mrs. Fong advanced her to Fong’s Chinatown graduate school, only one student.
Our group spreads around the table, liberally supplied with cheese, nuts, bread and crackers. The baby is asleep on a big pillow in Ning’s lap.
“Chan and I are so fortunate to have this family so close. I want to thank all of you. I mean, we pay no rent, the food and necessities are always here, it seems….I mean, are we doing enough?”
Janah, “More than. Just grocery shopping alone for all of us, not to mention cooking and the family gatherings, is practically a full time job. Particularly the way I eat.”
“You keep both places in perfect order and you have a child to care for, we’re grateful for you.”
“So it’s not just, well, I don’t mean a gift exactly.”
“It’s not required that you do anything. We don’t see it as a gift, or a salary, you don’t work for us. You do a part of the family’s work that suits you for now, let’s you be here with David.”
“If you’re sure I’m doing my part.”
“Ning, Daphne and I come from privilege, not super rich, not from birth. Our parents have done very well, we’ve been allowed extraordinary opportunities, from Chapmans, the temple, to our present life. Daphne’s mom had lean times early on, but by the time Daphne was five, things had turned around completely. Chris has money, Susan’s business is wildly profitable, we had the Epsteins generosity if we needed it. She gave us lots of the things in our apartment. Lacy gave us the space, our parents built it out. We didn’t do anything for it, they gave it to us. Of all our family, only Chan had personally experienced an empty stomach and cold nights. Daphne and I haven’t been separated for a day since we met. We don’t know loneliness or hunger.”
“You’re always hungry.”
Janah giggles, “Really hungry, not knowing where the food would come from. We don’t work, as in show up and collect a paycheck, life brought other things.”
Lacy, “You teach in my school for free, you work in Chinatown for free, among other projects.”
Lacy looks at Ning, “For people who aren’t technically employed, they are infinitely more productive than most corporate coffee drinkers.”
“Thank you, Lacy. Still, we get more than we give. Daphne touched on the subject once at a presentation at the Met. I often think how much could be done if people gave only four hours a week to volunteer work. If half the country participated that’s a hundred and fifty million people, or six hundred million people hours a week of helping. It would change the atmosphere around the world.”
“Think of it. Four hours a week. People think nothing of staring at a sixty minute football game for over three hours, watching other people do, while they sit passively being brainwashed by advertising. Then many continue to sit after that while ex-jocks replay the entire thing, babble about the importance of it while continuing to advertise stuff. In those four hours, if they volunteered, there is nothing that couldn’t be done. Instead, people submissively allow their minds and wallets to be plundered by so called entertainment.”
Janah brings a bottle, the baby is stirring, time for him to be fed, I add, “And in a sixty minute football game, there is actual action for eleven to thirteen minutes, all the rest is standing around.”
Lacy, “What? Daphne, is that true or one of your jokes?”
“I read it in the Wall Street Journal I think, Google it. There are twenty commercial breaks with over one hundred commercials.”
“Good gravy. What a colossal waste of time.”
Sis, “Speaking of real entertainment, remember, brunch is at the Epstein’s this Sunday. She said she ‘s anxious to see David. We haven’t all been together in a while, it’ll be fun.”
“I hope she’s getting that cake, I’m already starting to want some.”
Sis, “She’s as fond of that chocolate marshmallow extravaganza as you are, brunch is an excuse for her to buy one.”
The moms cover David in kisses, hug everyone and head to the condo. I down the lights a bit, light candles.
Janah, “Can you get us pizza or hit the deli, whatever you and Nikko are in the mood for? I’m going to talk with Ning.”
“On the case honey, we’ll be back in a bit.”
“Nikko, take a walk with me, sweet. We need to round up dinner.”
Janah, “Ning, you’re very much part of the family now and there are things you should know. You need to understand, none of this is for our other families, Nikko’s parents, yours, it has to stay in the immediate family. Lacy is immediate family, now you. Can you do that?”
Ning, “If you want it that way, it’s how it will be.”
Janah, “It’s necessary for everyone’s safety. You need to know because of Chan and particularly because of David. It’s a long story to cover in detail, and we can talk about it more as time goes by. Tonight I’ll give you an abbreviated version, which I think you’ll agree is enough to think about.”
Janah tells her a story about two girls who met before they met and who can see into each other’s minds. She skips two as one in detail, that might come later, it doesn’t matter for now. Ning listens silently, not gushing with questions.
“It’s easy to see now that you explain it. I thought there was something, not so dramatic as this. It’s beautiful to see you together, like two leaves spinning in a small whirlwind, what do they call them”
“Yes, this one doesn’t stop. The harmony of the two is always there, spinning together. Now it makes sense.”
“You see the need to keep this close? How we must avoid publicity, turn ourselves into a stage show or have the wrong people try to use us?”
“And they might use the family to get to you, to force you to use your skills, to make money, or spy, for instance?”
“Precisely. We could do some serious damage at a blackjack table or a poker game, and it would be impossible to figure out how we did it. We vowed never to work for money, or any government or cause, religious or nationalistic. We have kept that vow. We do ugly things, but things we decide to do, not someone else’s agenda.”
“I will never speak of it. Thank you for telling me, it opens my mind as I absorb it. The things we assume can or can't be done. Chan assumes nothing, I am learning. What I see expands without limit,” she smiles, laughs softly, "and I thought I was marrying a nice Buddhist boy with a lovely adopted family."
Lacy, "You did. There was just a tad more to the story."
"My son is blessed, Ning is blessed."
After dinner, Lacy, Ning and Chan rise to go home, all of a door and a second door away, we clear up boxes and dishes, do prepare for bed things.
In bed, Nikko is melting my butter, Janah comes out of the shower, “I felt you shiver and shake, bad girls been busy.”
“I was humming like a ten penny finishing nail hit with a greasy ball peen hammer.”
Janah giggles, “Where on earth…?”
“Brother Dave Gardner. A Southern club circuit comedian, when they had gambling along the Mississippi coast and New Orleans, not legal gambling, which is too boring, glitzy. Miss Alva used to say they were smoky places, cocktail lounges with bands and singers, sometimes a comedian. She had Brother Dave’s records, real albums, 78 rpm-ers, there were only two. He was a bit Zen actually, funny southern stories with some almost literary appeal, not redneck trailer park jokes like today.”
Janah, “You remember the strangest stuff at the strangest times. Miss Alva’s still alive, she’s part of you, one of a thousand splendid parts.”
Janah kisses Nikko, “Have fun with your twin?”
“Slow cooked her hominy and cleaned the skillet. What about you, hungry?”
Janah, “Ready to deep fry your vittles.”
Nikko lies back, Janah heats her oil, after she’d turned Nikko’s hush puppies golden brown, Janah smothers herself with her women. (Warning, theme change.) We fall into a post-Eros sleep of the Sapphites, whatever that means. It sounds all Latin or Greek-ish, which is important, so you’ll think you’re reading literature, not just a story. Pretend you’re in Athens…..Georgia.