Two days ease by, Gerard calls, “My police contacts suggested names, I found out more about the drug trade than I need to know. What they said was fleshed out by my acquaintance.”
Katya, “Come over for drinks, Ellen has a big pot of red beans and sausage simmering, batch of jalapeno cheese cornbread.”
Gerard, “My goodness, absolutely, what time works?”
“Cocktails six thirty, dinner whenever.”
Gerard, “Girls after my own heart, see you in a couple of hours.”
Later, seated in the courtyard, Mani brings preferred beverages, Gerard likes bourbon, lots of ice, splash of water. Ellen likes bourbon as well, keeps Maker’s Mark around, one of Gerard’s preferences. Tonight she offers him a surprise, Elijah Craig's 21 year old.
Gerard, “My God, Ellen you surpass yourself, this is marvelous. How did you come on it?”
“The class in Houston, for wine mostly, but they covered distilled spirits. I got into this one myself, none of us girls were born when they put it in the barrel. Tasty isn’t it?”
“Heavenly is more like it.”
“Enjoy, it isn’t available anymore.”
Katya, “How is telekinesis coming?”
Gerard brightens, “I moved a pencil, not a guess, not a draft, I moved it. I did a small dance. I had to blink and catch my breath, completely surprised myself .”
“And you attribute it to simply sitting still?”
“Yes, entirely. I am more convinced than ever that all our activity, physical and mental, is blocking our perception. That children see mysteries, but are too soon shoveled into structured busyness.”
Katya isn’t going into the long nights she and Katja had nothing to do but sit in a dark house until the morning. How they learned to talk mind to mind from just sitting in the silence, being absorbed into it.
Gerard, “Regarding our other investigation, here’s what I found out. The drug business in Louisiana is small time. All the product comes from Atlanta or Florida. If you want to find the end players, you have to go there. In south Louisiana, a couple of people might bring in fifty or sixty thousand in marijuana, the same in cocaine, less in hallucinogens or pain relievers, like oxycontin. New Orleans, and south Louisiana for that matter, is relatively small and particularly poor. All the locals are part time dealers. Nothing little gangs are shooting each other over thousand dollar drug deals. All of Louisiana has four million people, it's small potatoes, Atlanta metro is nearly six million.”
Katya, “Were you able to get names of big potatoes?”
Gerard, “Two, one in Atlanta, a second in Miami. Atlanta has a black cartel run by a man called Abd al Razik, an African Muslim name. Muslims are fine with feeding Americans drugs. Supply is plentiful, lots of money for the cause.”
Katya, “And Miami?”
“Colombian of course. Francisco Calderon is the alleged kingpin, he is alleged to have nasty associates, family, nephews, cousins, all on payroll, some quite vicious. Be careful what you take on, if taking on something is the reason for your curiosity.”
“We are looking for information only, for a friend in Houston. He was curious about the nature of the drug business in New Orleans. I told him I would ask around. Didn’t ask why he wanted to know. It is interesting, New Orleans is a fairly easy place to smuggle things, big port, casual airport security, long unguarded coastline, cheap politicians and a bribable justice system. I would have thought it would be a good distribution center, but I know almost nothing about the drug business.”
Gerard smiles, “I am completely in the dark. As I said, I use one local for my minor marijuana supply. I don’t do the other anymore, it was only experimental and I learned nothing.”
Mani supplies a second round of drinks, after which they move inside for dinner.
Gerard, “Ellen, you always make the simple seem gourmet. Red beans with tender ham pieces, lots of chopped onion, garlic and tasty chunks of sausage. The cornbread is divine, superb southern cooking.”
“Thank you. I leaned all kinds of fancy recipes at school, my girls like New Orleans and southern staples best. Save a bit of room, I whipped up an apple cherry crumble that will make you cry, specially when I douse it with crème fraiche.”
Mani, “You make that all the time, I was amazed at how simple it is.”
“Heavy cream and a bit of buttermilk, let it sit for twelve hours covered in a warm spot, quick stir and refrigerate.”
Conversation moves on to other matters. If Gerard suspects the girls have other than stated motives for asking, he is gentlemen enough not to pursue it. He knows whatever it’s about they aren’t the type to get into the drug business, nor to use them even casually.
Dessert with a Cognac chaser, everyone’s a little tipsy, Katja says, “Gerard, you will show us moving pencil, ees okay to ask?”
Gerard, “I can give it a shot, if it doesn’t work I can shift the blame to twenty one year old bourbon.”
Mani finds a pencil, “Where do you want it?”
“Just on the table, I didn’t do anything special at home. It takes me a bit to generate the energy.”
They sit silently, Gerard focuses on the pencil, nothing happens for five, eight, ten minutes. Then it rolls a few inches towards Ellen.
Applause, Gerard says, “Whew, I nearly blew a fuse I was concentrating so hard. Easier to do in a more sober state I think.”
Katja, “Ees still remarkable, you can move mahter wiz brain. Your hours of nothing rewarded, you are congratulate.”
“Thank you dear girl. I admit to a bit of pride, after wondering if I had wasted thousands of hours on nothing.”
Mani, “People watch TV for thousands of hours and only pollute their brains with nonsense and commercials. Nothing would be an improvement.”
Gerard, “You know, you are correct young Mani. We do spend an enormous amount of time distracting ourselves, don’t we?”
Katya, “Who is the person in New Orleans who gets the drugs here, from either Atlanta or Miami. Or maybe, who is driving there with money to buy wholesale and bring it back to New Orleans to sell retail. There must be some central source.”
Gerard, “Oh, caught up in the big boys and my little demonstration, I didn’t say, did I? That would be Paul Castellan and David Ignatius. Again, it’s thought they are small time, enough to supply local demand. Not sure who supplies all of south Louisiana. Maybe those two are tied up in it. Ignatius has been arrested before, assault, I have a mug shot. Castellan has been clean, they say if you see the one, you see the other.”
He hands the photo over to Katya, she comments, “Nothing special, an off the rack guy, they all have a three day growth of beard, why?”
Ellen, “Makes them look macho, that’s what they think anyway.”
Katya, “Makes them look sloppy.”
Katya mulls it over a day, then tells Ellen, “You and Mani will track Ignatius and Castellan. Either someone brings product to them, or they go get it. Castellan is listed as owner of a house in Lakeview, put tracker device on any car there, be careful.”
Lakeview was most severely impacted by Katrina, and maybe half the former homes have been rebuilt in all this time. No home was salvageable, water was over the roof. Many people didn’t have flood insurance, it had never flooded so severely and it wasn’t required for a mortgage. How people could ignore the fact that they lived below sea level, and there was a massive lake and two huge drainage canals bordering their neighborhood is one of life’s mysteries. At the time, flood insurance was maybe three hundred bucks a year for an average home. You don’t spend three hundred dollars to protect a quarter million or more investment?
Now the rebuilt homes are on stilts, or the ground underneath had been elevated ten feet or more. Lots of people now live on the hill in a place where there were no hills.
Ellen and Mani are in a rented sedan, down the block from Castellan’s.
Mani, “One car in the drive, if there’s another, it’s in the closed garage. House is dark too.”
Ellen, “I’m texting the make, model and plate to Katya, she’ll figure out who the car belongs to.”
Fifteen minutes of nothing, then, ‘Ignatius, tag it.’
Ellen, “Okay tasty Thai, take this and stick it under the car where I showed you, be quick, don’t hesitate.”
The Spark Nano goes on the metal brace behind the bumper, impossible to spot unless the car is on a rack.
Mani climbs in, Ellen says, “It’s live.”
Mani, “Now what?”
“We can’t get to a car in the garage, if there is one. Either they aren’t going anywhere or they’re someplace together in another car.”
She calls Katya, relates progress.
Katya, “I did more digging on Castellan, he’s part owner of a bar in Metairie. He drives a year old BMW, mid range 328 model, black,” she gives her the plate number, “go to the bar, he may be there now.”
Ellen clicks off, “We’re gonna go to Blackie’s Pub, pool hall in the burbs. Castellan owns a piece, Katya wants us to see if we spot his wheels.”
Ellen circles the block, there’s a small parking lot, the BMW sits on the end. “Whatever’s happening is happening inside, it’s deserted out here, stick the tracker while it’s quiet.”
While Mani plants the device, Ellen calls Katya, “BMW is tagged.”
Katya, “Watch for a while. Pool hall is as good a place as any to distribute to street dealers.”
They can see inside, partially anyway, from the plate glass entrance door. It’s typical, they aren’t appealing to any high end shooters. There are average guys, the bar is wooden, stools too. A flat screen shows MMA videos.
A van pulls into the small lot, black guy hops out, goes inside. A few minutes later, he’s out again with two medium size duffle bags, tosses them in the van, gets back in the passenger side and the van leaves.
Ellen, “Let’s see where van man goes.”
They follow down the interstate, exit Carrollton Avenue, up Carrollton to St. Charles, across to River Road, called Leake Avenue, left to Audubon Park. It’s dark, after ten. Van stops, there are two sedans, bodies exit, visit the passenger window of the van, take a package and leave. The van heads down Magazine Street. Two more deliveries, one in the vacant Whole Foods lot on Magazine.
A right at Felicity, left to Annunciation, another drop at Annunciation Square. Over to Tchoupitoulas Street, right to St. Peter, left to the foot of Canal Street by the ferry landing. Final drop there. It’s after eleven, and the girls are conveniently a mile from the house on Ursulines.
They have a drink with the twins, Ellen says, “At least the one van picks up at Blackie’s, then makes a run uptown all the way to Canal Street. They have the Tulane Loyola college crowd, uptown gentry, warehouse district and French Quarter covered.”
Katya, “So another someone picks up for the suburbs, Lakeview, Gentilly, and probably a third for across the lake in Mandeville and Covington.”
“Good a guess as any. Across the lake may be someone else entirely. We aren’t looking to track deliveries over there, much less Baton Rouge and the rest of south Louisiana.”
Katya, “No. You did the major part of the job at the Lakeview house and the pool hall, trackers on both Castellan and Ignatius."
Katja, “Forget house. They won’t haf drug delivery at home unless they are stupid. We haf only to watch pool playing place I think. Either they go out of town to collect, or the delivery ees at Blackie bar.”
Katya, “Then until we see one of their cars going to Atlanta or Miami, watch Blackie’s. There will be a car, truck, van, something with Georgia or Florida plate.”
Mani, “What if there’s a middleman between here and there?”
Katya, “Good point. Still look for car with out of state plate, Mississippi or Alabama maybe. Nothing else between Georgia or Florida. Watch for a week. Track any car from those states. Maybe instead, they leave town, then we follow.”
Ellen, “I’ll keep an eye on battery use. Mani and I can sneak around and replace trackers if it’s necessary.”
Katja, “How meeny do we haf?”
Ellen, “Good question, only four, I’ll order a half dozen in the morning, have them overnighted.”
Mani, “Geez, I’m whacked, need to sleep.”
Ellen, “Take Castellan, I’ll take Ignatius. Castellan's tracker will go off when he leaves the bar, if he goes anyplace but home, we need to get busy, tired or not.”
Just then, the text comes, Castellan is on the move. They follow the dot, it beelines to the Lakeview house, then blinks off.
Ellen, “Good, we aren’t driving to Atlanta tonight. Keep it next to you anyway. If he wakes up to go out of town, we need to get in behind him.”
Mani, “If I get a few hours sleep, I’m good. I’ll lose sleep to cash in anytime.”
Mani does her duty, she and Ellen spend two weeks monitoring the pool hall and bar. They leave when they get the text, usually it’s Castellan’s BMW, sometimes Ignatius’ SUV, a white Tahoe. During the day, the cars go here and there around the city, but they don’t range far.
Katya, “We will follow only if they go past Slidell. We can catch up easily enough.”
Ellen, “Nothing’s come to the bar that looks like a drug delivery, no cars from out of state, at least not the states we’re looking for. One truck was from Texas, but a guy and a girl got out, he was carrying case for a cue stick. Probably just a traveling hustler.”
Mani, “And we’ve seen only one other van that makes deliveries. We’ve tracked the first van, it makes the same four stops all the time. The second goes to Kenner, a public playground in Metairie, then to Mid-City and Gentilly.”
Katya, “Must be needing supply soon. They deliver every other day, even if it is relatively small amounts, it adds up. From what you’ve seen, they might do more business than Gerard’s connection thinks. Keep watch, tedious every night, but at least it is only the bar, no reason to follow around deliveries. Take the trackers off the delivery vans, creates a problem if they are discovered.”
They retrieve the trackers like they attached them. The vans sit unattended while the men go inside to swap money for drugs. It has to be counted, a tally of drugs going out verified. Nobody wants any misunderstandings about who owes what to whom. They’ve also swapped out trackers twice for Castellan and once for Ignatius, his Tahoe goes almost no place. They travel together in Castellan’s sedan and Gerard was correct, you see one, you see the other.
Ellen, “Never see girls.”
Katja, “Maybe ees queer drug dealers.”
Mani giggles, “Katja, are you profiling our targets?”
“Da, you haf watch for two weeks, no sign of woman, always together.”
Ellen, “No sign of women at the bar, at least not that they come or go with. But we aren’t monitoring the house, girlfriends might go there, or they get delivery, like pizza.”
Katja, “Ees true, maybe keep girl out of drug deal, or just like variety of escort service.”
Katya, “Does not matter who they fuck, not going to fuck us, we only need to know who they get drugs from.”
Mani laughs, “There’s the truth of it.”
At breakfast, a text arrives, it’s the Tahoe.
Ellen, “That one hasn’t left this early since we’ve been lookin’.”
Katya, “Get dressed.”
It doesn’t take long to see the dot heading down I-10, past Gentilly and New Orleans East on to the twin spans, dual bridges that cross the span between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borne, which leads to the Gulf of Mexico.
Weapons and clothes are already packed, anticipating just this situation. Four girls are in the new SUV, an Escalade Platinum.
Ellen drives, “Man I could ride this baby around the world, glad we sprung for it. The Honda CRV is good for everyday, but a long trip, this is the way to go. If God drives, she’s got one of these suckers.”
Katya is following the Tahoe on her phone screen, “Passing Bay St. Louis. If he is going to Atlanta, they will take I-65 off I-10. Maybe seven hours.”
Ellen, “I can press it a bit, gas is full and we have a twenty six gallon tank, but so does a Tahoe.”
Two hours, the Tahoe is stopped, Ellen asks, “Likely gas or call of nature, should we gas up now too? We made up some ground pushing eighty.”
Katya, “Get gas, make it quick, maybe they screw around a little. I am concerned they meet their connection halfway, say Montgomery. If they do, the deal could be done and the Atlanta connection gone.”
Ellen, “Sheeyt, I never thought of that. I’ll fill the sucker, let’s get back on the road.”
Quick restroom stop, coffee to go, no time for anything else, on the road again, Katya says, “Small break, they are still stationary. I hope this isn’t the meeting, we’re what, twenty or twenty five minutes behind.”
Ellen, “Want me to goose it higher?”
“No, traffic cop and ticket, we’re screwed. Keep it five miles over the limit. We can hope there is some conversation, something to keep both sides together for a bit. If not, we have a feel for where they go, we get them next time.”
The Tahoe starts to move, continuing north on I-65.
Katya, “Good, that wasn’t the meeting.”
Mani, “What doesn’t this car have? I got a TV screen on the back of your seat. Headphones come with the car. Six bucket seats I could curl up and nap in. Christ, rich is good.”
Katja, “Car ees only ninety thousand.”
Mani, “That’s what I want to say one day, car ees only ninety thousand.”
Ellen laughs, “We pull this deal off, you will be sayin’ it.”
Drive on, the scenery picks up from the drab nothing of I-10 to the more rolling hills north on I-65. Four hours, they’re twenty miles from Montgomery Alabama.
Katya, “Tracker ees again stop. Let me see,” she clicks around the map, “a motel, Super 8. Low key, nobody pays attention.”
Ellen, “Now let’s hope they visit, count money, check the drugs long enough for us to get there anyway.”
Fifteen minutes and only ten miles over the limit, they pull in a hundred yards from the Tahoe. It’s parked in front of a room, next to it is a U-Haul van, big green lettering, 19.95 a day.
Ellen, “Not the world’s worst idea. People just see someone moving.”
Katya, “Get gas. If this is the delivery car, we need to follow it now.”
Shell station across the street, Katja watches while Ellen fills the tank, everyone goes to the ladies, another round of coffee. Just as they pull into the Super 8 lot, the door to room 115 opens. Ignatius and Castellan come out with boxes, six trips in and out of the room. They wave at whoever in inside, climb in the Tahoe and pull away.
Katya monitors, right back down I-65 the way they came.
“We got lucky, and were prepared, had our car packed and ready. Twenty minutes the wrong way an we’re doing this again.”
Two black men exit, close the door to 115, get in the U-Haul.
Ellen, “Too bad we couldn’t get close enough to track the van.”
Katya, “Not so important. Hard to lose an orange van, and it’s just going to be turned in. We need to make sure not to lose the car they left at the U-Haul place.”
True to prediction, they follow the van to a rental location in Montgomery, one man goes to turn in the van, the other transfers bags from the back of the van to the trunk of a Mercedes GL class SUV.
Mani, “Nice car.”
Katja, “Da, we look at, but ees turbo diesel and only V-6, Escalade ees V-8 and gas. Mercedes ees sleek look anyway.”
Mani, “I can pull this off,” she shucks her jeans, “Ellen take a tracker, I’m gonna distract our boy.”
She hops out, now she’s in only a t-shirt and sneakers, strolls alongside the Mercedes, the man has just finished loading the last bag, he shuts the hatch.
“Nice car, you like?”
He looks her over, she’s beaming her best wattage smile, his eyes tour curvy legs, “Yeah, great ride. Hey, maybe you take a spin? Bring your right back.”
Mani, “Tempted, just under age, my folks would freak, they’re over at the Ihop getting extra cholesterol. I don’t eat that shit, that’s why I’m so cute.”
His pal returns, “What’s this?”
“She’s just complimenting the car, mom and dad be over the Ihop eating crap she don’t like.”
Second looks her over, “Good to watch your diet little girl, looks like you keep your shit together,” he turns to his pal, “we got to move.”
Mani, “Bye now,” she saunters off in the direction of the restaurant, the Mercedes pulls out of the lot.
Back in the car, she pulls on her jeans, Ellen says, “Good job little honey, I got that thing stuck under the front bumper.”
Katya, “Da, and it is working, let’s go.”
Two and a half hours later, the Mercedes stops at a two story brick building in northeast Atlanta. It’s maybe two thousand square feet per floor. Windows are small and covered on the second, the ground floor has an ancient sign over the front door that says Grain and Feed. The place looks vacant, old shelving and grimy linoleum, empty boxes strewn about, dust and partially dismantled shelving.
The Mercedes drives around the rear, man gets out and unlocks a rusted metal gate, the car heads down a service alley bordered by a high concrete block wall, closed on the far end. A staircase goes up to the second floor.
Ellen parks down the block, “Gonna take a look, sit tight.”
She strolls down the empty street, a glance into the service alley, the two hauling bags up the steps. She returns to the car.
“Don’t know if they keep drugs there, but the bags went upstairs.”
Katya, “We don’t care about the drugs. Wait, see where they go next.”
Where they go next is Buckhead, wealthy suburban Atlanta enclave. The Mercedes takes a left, twelve foot iron rail gate splits open, the car continues down a wide drive at the end of which is a mega manse.
Mani, “Geez, how many people live in that place? Must have a dozen bedrooms.”
Katya is diddling with Google Earth, “Giant pool, fountains, separate pool house in back, tennis court.”
Ellen, “Man’s livin’ large.”
Katya, “Drive the neighborhood.”
The house to the right is occupied, so is the one behind. The one to the left is for sale and appears empty.
Katya, “If we need to come here again, we can approach from the unoccupied side. Drive to Mandarin Oriental, we will get a room.”
They check in, bellman takes the suitcases, Ellen and Mani retain gun cases and ammunition. To the suite, Ellen tips the bellman twenty, earns a nice smile and thank you ma’am.
Mani’s touring, “Two king bedrooms, two full baths, two terraces, cool.”
Katya, “Taking shower, then find cocktail.”
While they finish dressing, casual elegance, heels, pants and silk blouses, Katya is surfing the hotel restaurant offerings.
“Not much interesting for dinner, let me see,” she cranks up Google for restaurants in Buckhead.
“The Capitol Grille, steak and seafood, upscale, only a mile away. It’s a small chain in a dozen states. There are two in Houston, never noticed them.”
Ellen, “One’s in the Galleria, I’ve seen it, never went.”
They park at the bar while waiting on a table, the hostess said about an hour, Ellen gives her a twenty, “We’ll be at the bar.”
They have one cocktail and mysteriously a table opens in twenty minutes. Ellen’s gaydar picked up a special smile from the hostess. Her nametag reads Amanda.
“Thank you Amanda, never been here before, we are looking forward to it.”
Amanda, “Food is good here and as advertised on the menu, no surprises. Four lovely women, girls’ night out?”
Ellen, “Always girls night out, we don’t out with the opposite sex.”
Amanda’s eyes twinkle, “You live here?”
“Just touristing, we live in Phoenix.”
“In town long?”
“Not sure, we’re just traveling here and there. We do real estate investing, sometimes we come across something interesting just by accident. Besides hostessing, what do you do to kill the time?”
“Go to college, only part time. I’m in no hurry to grow up.”
Ellen smiles, “Neither are we. We got lucky, inheritance for those two,” she nods to the twins, “got them started in real estate. I came along, they taught me what they’d learned,” she nods to Mani, “the baby of the family takes care of us at home.”
“Wait, you all live together?”
“Yes, and we don’t have rules about who enjoys who.”
Amada grins, “My style.”
“Give me your number.”
Amanda does, “Call me,” she returns to her duties.
Mani, “She’s hot, think we can find the time?”
“Who knows? But I’ll call her just to be polite. If we have time off, maybe she can come around.”
Dinner is steak au poivre, Chilean sea bass, filet mignon with roasted cipollini onions (the little ones that look like fat buttons) and mushrooms. Also a large appetizer they order an as entrée called Grand Plateau, jumbo lump crab, North Atlantic lobster, shrimp cocktail, oysters on the half shell.
Ellen discusses wines with the sommelier, she has to do the pretense since she attended the sommelier course at Le Notre. She goes with his suggestions,
Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, and Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon. The girls don’t worry about white for fish and red for meat, the wines both sounded good and, after tasting, Ellen confirms.
Katja, “Red ees good wine, we can haf at home?”
Ellen, “Don’t see why not, I’ll check with Martin’s.”
The waiter inquires about dessert, the girls decline. Pleasantly full from a high protein dinner, not stuffed. They have perhaps long days and tedium until they find a way to the money.
Ellen whispers to Amada on the way out, nice blush and pretty smile.
Katja, “You are peeking up hostess girl maybe.”
“Maybe, work first, if there’s dead time, we’ll see.”
Back in the suite, they skip more booze and head off to bed. Despite it being travel for profit, not leisure, a first tier hotel and a good dinner makes for warmed women.
Mani takes Ellen by the hand, “Goodnight Katja, Katya, see you in the morning.”
In their bedroom, deconstruct, refresh, into bed, Mani is all over Ellen.
Mani, “I got wet in the restaurant, Amanda’s sooo creamy, we have to get into that smoothie.”
Ellen grins, “Slut. Lay back, I’ll help you release the steam before you explode.”
Mani moans her way to her first orgasm in minutes, “Oh wow, my brain pictured the sultry Amanda face and long blond hair right between my legs. I fantasized about her looking up at me while she licked, then I opened my eyes and you were looking up at me while you licked. I nearly shorted out.”
Ellen laughs, “My turn, get busy, even better, on our terrace. I can stand and watch the lights while you get on your knees and make me lose my mind.”
Fifteen minutes later, mind gone, Mani kisses elegant Ellen legs while she catches her breath. Bedtime, as they nod off, a lingering soft vibration right where a soft vibe does the most good.