We surround the dining table in Janah's suite, “Anyone come up with anything?”
Chan, “One or two of us could go in as customers, the obvious drawback is that Shadows will recognize most us before we get in the door. It would have to be Nikko or Amaya.”
Nikko, “I don't see it. We can get to the building in darkness, we don't need an invitation and becoming customers prolongs the mission. We’d have to make contact, get checked out, pay the fee.”
“Let me find an opening. I have the front and sides of the building in mind, I can see every window and door. There is the front door, exits on both sides, no doubt one more in the rear. The satellite photos show a small porch, the mountain is but fifty or sixty feet from the rear of the building, and it runs almost straight up for three hundred feet or more. The other side is national park. There's nothing but rock and brush for miles.”
Janah, “It's not like they can call for help. The last thing they want is the locals streaming in.”
Zi, “No, but they must have a plan if that were to happen. I don't doubt they can document both their legitimacy and the presence of the children.”
Janah, “Let's back up. We are ninety percent certain there is child prostitution going on. But what if it's not? What if it is a hoked up religious ritual where children are paraded out in costume, or in nothing. Visitors get to look but not touch. Perhaps they’re served food and drink by nude or mostly nude children, or they sit in a dark corner and diddle themselves while the children play and tease.”
Nikko, “Is that something people would pay money for?”
Janah, “Beats me. Men pay to see girl groups in short skirts sing pop songs and dance on a stage. The closest seats are twenty yards from the stage and the girls wear short shorts under the skirts, not panties. Despite that, the venue is packed. If tickets are a hundred dollars, what might a rich man pay to sit right in the middle, talk to the girls, be flattered, see a lot more than short shorts?”
“Janah has a point. Men go to strip clubs and cough up hundreds to watch girls in g-strings, no touching. ”
Nikko, “True. Still, in this case even if it’s all tease, maybe it’s not technically child abuse but it’s wildly inappropriate at the least. Anyway, we don’t actually know what it is or isn’t.”
“Okay, let’s say I go to the building and sniff around. We have a portable listening device on top of my hearing. I think a night of pure surveillance will tell us what we need to know.”
Chan, “Are the windows closed, I mean with curtains? Can you see inside?”
“They had curtains, but they were open when we were there. That might change during the festivities. We'll know soon enough.”
A night of surveillance to see if we storm the gates.
We fiddle around the bulk of the day, the martial artists stretch and Tai Chi, Amaya and Janah have a yoga session. We nap around three thirty, Chan in his room, Amaya and I in ours. We just snuggle and zone out.
A light room service dinner at six, pack up our gear and drive. Amaya has us at the dirt road at eight, a check with the Society confirms no activity going in, no lights of cars going out. They also report that four cars arrived earlier, with guests. Something’s happening.
I drive the SUV the last mile with the lights off. They may have someone who watches the road. With the stars and a small crescent moon, and infrared vision, to me, it's like daylight. I get out and start up the hill in the dark, off to the side of the road, about twenty yards.
There is movement just at the crest. I stop dead still, then to a crouch behind a small boulder.
A man is sitting at the crest. I'm going to take him out and see what I can spot.
I circle to the right, the man is sitting on a rock drinking from a thermos. Years of silence exercises at the temple is paying off. I feel Janah inside, I make the man's mind go blank, he sees and hears nothing. I touch him in the neck, near his shoulder, he slumps. He'll be out for an hour or more.
Chan needs to come up and monitor this guy. I don't need him waking up and I don’t need him remembering anything.
While I wait for Chan, I scan the grounds. There's someone on the roof, he's got binoculars, no doubt with night vision. The owl gave me my own night vision. Other than that, there are only chickens in a coop fifty yards from the monastery and the sound of vegetables growing.
Man on the roof, too far to take his mind. I'll have to get my invisibility cloak.
Janah, Can you get to the building without being seen?
I'm a Shaolin priest, I can walk up the drive without being seen.
Janah laughs silently, Sneak around to the side, away from the chickens, we don’t them then to start up. Make your approach when the guard is focused elsewhere. Once you’re at the building, he'd have to look over the side to see you. I doubt he goes to the rear much, there's no approach from there.
Chan is here like he dropped from a star. He sits cross legged next to the unconscious man, I nod and begin to make my way to the left, staying on my side of the crest out of sight of the guard. It takes me a half hour to get to the left side of the building. I peer over the crest. The guard is staring through binoculars towards the road, then sweeps towards me. I duck and wait, then creep a bit further to a rock on the crest, look out from its side. The guard is smoking a cigarette, no binoculars, one haunch on the low wall that surrounds the roof.
I start over the crest and down to the left rear of the building. The guard isn't overly diligent. They sit night after night with nothing happening, no official or unofficial force has ever stormed the gates. The guards are more to reassure the customers or keep an eye out for errant children.
Still, he does get up and check regularly, so the going is slow. It takes me nearly an hour of start and stop to get to the base of the hill. Now I have fifty yards of bare ground to cover without him seeing me. I wait, he walks the roof on my side, takes a short sweep with the binoculars, walks to the front, then disappears.
Janah, I joined Chan, the guard is heading to the other side.
Time to shuck and jive. I spring from my spot and fly over the dirt until I’m up against the building's left rear corner. Curtains are drawn on the side, but light spills out from rear windows, goody.
I creep to the first window. It's a kitchen, food is out on trays along with glasses of wine and champagne, Interesting religion.
Janah, Well, some say monks of St. Hilaire in the south of France invented champagne. Others say it's English, but the monks certainly made it even if they didn't make it first.
I've wondered what the French are good for besides women with hairy armpits, Gauloises and Marchand de Vin.”
Get to work.
I do, looking in the window, I see four girls and a boy enter with empty trays and pick up filled ones. They are in sheer linen robes, white, with a twist. They are barefoot, and the robes cling close to young bodies. They have the same long billowy sleeves, and the robe itself ends just at the top of the thighs. In the light, it is evident they have on nothing underneath. On the boy, the tip of a little penis pokes out. As one girl reaches for a tray, the robe rides halfway up her bare tush.
Well, well. You suppose the monks of St. Hilaire had the same habits?
Janah, Habits as in robes of dainty linen with nothing underneath, or being surrounded by near nude children?
From what I've read of Catholics, more like the latter.
I crawl under the window to the next, Janah, Kiss the building, the guard is coming to the rear left. Left from my side, right from yours, do you see?
Through Janah’s eyes, I watch him walk along the low wall, he reaches the rear, takes a quick look, returns to the front. I move to the next window. After that, there are shoulder high hedges bordering the walkway from the back door for ten feet, more windows on the other side.
The next window is revealing. It's a large hall. I can see part of a stage, big chairs and couches scattered around. Children not delivering food or drink are as barely dressed as the servers. Some are standing in front of men seated on the couches or chairs, others are in the men's laps. Seven customers in all, no, eight, I spot a female far left. There are two adult women in habits, regular robes, and two men, same dress. The robes are black. Other adults with the monastery are elsewhere. They've seen these shows many times, this is nothing particularly interesting to them, and too many non participating adults is intimidating. Whatever the customers are paying, it's enough to demand little interference.
The children in laps are being fondled and kissed. They seem almost coquettish about it, smiling and laughing with the customers. I can hear conversations.
'Do you think I'm pretty?'
'You are lovely dear.'
One girl has her robe pulled halfway up to her chest, her legs are spread, 'Touch me again, it feels so good.'
He obliges, finger swiping over her not so private part, she giggles and kisses him. Not a peck on the cheek, a tongue swap. She might be nine.
The door opens, I become part of the dirt under the hedge, a man and the woman come out.
Man lights a cigarette, hands it to the woman, lights one for himself, I catch the herbal scent of cannabis.
Man, “You taking up a boy or girl tonight?”
Woman, “Both, of course. I like to watch them play first. The girl and I share tasting his little penis, then I watch him fuck her. He goes away, she and I have fun.”
“I've picked out two girls, tonight I want older, these are thirteen and fourteen. They love going down on each other for me. Don't know if it's true, but they told me they do it with each other all the time. The older one says she's had every girl in here. She helps train them.”
“Ever taken a boy?”
“Naw, I leave that shit to the pervs.”
They laugh together, flick their smokes out to the patio and go back inside.
Janah, I don't want to watch more. We have enough. We have a different problem though.
Yeah, what does the Society do with kids who think this is all just dandy?
Do we do this tonight?
Janah, Hang on, I've got to inform the Society, I'm calling Mrs. Epstein directly.
It's one in the morning there.
She'll want to know.
I hear music, like strip club music, the lights dim, the stage is lit up. I can see the front half of the stage. Boys and girls not on somebody's lap are dancing seductively. Robes come off, the children are dirty dancing, kissing, a girl no more than eight is on her knees fellating a boy that may be ten. None of the kids are shy, none cringe in a corner, they are all smiles and laughs. A naked girl with her legs straddled, a girl that isn't more than six on her knees in front of her. The standing girl is grinding her hips, a tiny tongue licks. I turn away, enough.
Janah is online, She’s making arrangements, I described in graphic detail. She said to pull back and return to the hotel. She'll have a plan by morning.
Keep me posted on the guard up top, I can make double time if I don't have to watch him myself.
We're back in the hotel, Nikko and Amaya saw what I saw, Janah explained to Zi and Chan. We go to bed, nobody feels like sex. I'm holding Amaya in our bed. She's trembling. She is closest to this nightmare, Chloe had been treated horribly, physically abused, not sexually abused. It pains Amaya for the children, she thinks that if not for us, she would have wound up much the same way. I let her grieve, then into her mind and put her to sleep. I know I want to kill every adult in the place, don't need to get in Nikko's head to find out what she thinks. The only difference is I would slaughter them compassionately.
Janah's SAT phone goes off at eight, we gather in her room over coffee, tea, scrambled eggs and toast. No one is particularly hungry, but we have work to do and need calories to do it effectively.
“The plan is more complicated. Because of the children's compliance, we need to go in when the children are in the fields. There will be cars cresting the hills, black cars with red bubble lights on the dash. Naturally they will assume a raid. One of two things could happen, we will be received with arrogant bemusement, or they will hustle the kids back into the monastery. That's only a problem if a hostage situation develops. We have to make sure it doesn't.”
Zi, “How do you prevent it?”
Janah, “Rather than an army all at once, we send one car, a cop car, to show them a picture of a missing kid. There will be a warrant to search the premises. That puts Daphne and Chan on the inside. When the cavalry comes, the two of them will subdue any potential hostage situation.”
Zi, “If they are Shadows, won't they recognize Daphne and Chan?”
Janah, “Yes, but they won't know Daphne and Chan recognize them, most monks can't recognize Shadows. They are going to be dressed as uniformed police. Shadows will see them as enemy, no different than Shaolin monks. At the moment, with two people in uniforms and a search warrant, they are going to go with what they see. If something else happens, they’ll have to deal.”
Nikko, “We go today?”
“Tomorrow. Some guests from last night may stay on, but others will leave. The Society will follow them, find out what flight they're on and have them followed home on the other end. Other Social Workers will visit them. There may be new people in today, we'll have a head count in the morning. We could have the uniforms, car and search warrants today, but it would be late afternoon. The kids are inside resting and cleaning up for the evening activity.”
Zi, “What do they do when the kids get older. Daphne didn't see any older than fourteen.”
“Sold off to the highest bidder, a pimp, a customer who is partial to one or the other. Much of their earning value as children is gone by twelve, they keep few to fourteen to train the younger ones I suppose.”
Amaya, “Don't the kids ask where they went?”
“That's fairly simple. These kids appear to like this, at the least don’t know any better. If it were me answering, I'd say that Annabelle went to serve in another monastery, a choice offered when they reach a certain age or a reward for good performance. Some crap like that.”
“I see it, I thought I was all spiffy and grown up. These kids are brainwashed from the time they are tiny. I saw other kids being photographed, some did shots and video together. In the beginning, I believed I was modeling, no different than dance class or acting in a play. Seeing other kids do it made it seem normal.”
Janah, “And that's why I think the adults, the Shadows, don't really have to employ much extra control, nothing to control.”
Ours is a complicated group. We see the pain of others, the cruelty and abuse, we know firsthand the depths of human depravity, if you read any news, you do too. These particular children live in a world they understand. Millions of other children, girls in particular, suffer the consequences of pathetic men who think manhood is a pass to throw acid in women's faces, stone them at will, mutilate or kill little girls for trying to get an education. Pimps run child prostitutes, sell girls into slavery. Ignorant malicious warriors smash babies into brick walls for being in the wrong tribe. Sovereign nations sell them guns to promote an agenda that changes two years later.
Some days I think sooner the Earth kills off humanity for poisoning it, the better.
Zi, Janah, and Amaya are taking a walk with Chan, Nikko and I are lounging in Amaya's suite. I make coffee and we park on the couch.
Nikko, “I haven't followed Chloe's texts. What's she up to?”
“She's at Susan's, they went to Central Park, Chloe spent the day reading people, said it was too long to text. You already know about the modeling thing. She misses us.”
Nikko, “I miss her. She's doing well with kendo. She's quick. Her strokes lack power, she makes up for some of it in speed and her arms and legs are long, she can close in a step if she needs to. Ari told me she is not as natural as Amaya with tea, and she has no innate vocal skills but has a sweet clear voice. She'll never have Amaya's range. Mother said she makes up for it in sheer adorability. Geishas don't smile with teeth showing, so her big whites aren't a plus, but the violet eyes are so striking it is a pleasure just to look at her.”
“I know you are also Hanshi to her. Perhaps, though, you can be the gentle Hanshi. She doesn't complain, but she gets enough steely looks from your dad. She will respond to your encouragement.”
Nikko, “I hadn't thought of it, how stupid of me. Now that you mention it, it’s obvious.”
“She knows you are you, not full of silliness like me or Amaya, she respects that.”
“Still, this one needs more care.”
She leans over and kisses me softly, we are quiet, I pour us more coffee. We sit together staring out at the mountain in the distance. The sun is setting, the mountain turns dried blood rusty red. An omen.
We clean and refresh, order dinner to be delivered to Janah's suite and by seven thirty sitting down to another Andaluz feast. One bottle of wine, only Nikko, Amaya and Janah drink, my sips don't count. Everyone needs a clear head tomorrow.
Sunday morning does what it does, shows up on time. We breakfast in the hotel's restaurant, chatter away about what sightseeing and shopping we might do. If the wait staff remembers anything it would be that self indulgent young people paid a lot of money for their best accommodations, room service and fine wines, and made plans to spend even more money buying crapola.
Amaya drives us to the car, one from Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office. On the way, we change into uniforms. I familiarize myself with the controls, the lights, the siren. We turn off the radio, GPS disabled, don’t need a record of where the car went. Weapons were removed from the trunk, we don't use guns, even to point and not shoot. Search warrant on the dash, Chan in the passenger seat. He can drive but doesn't practice much, think of blunt force trauma behind the wheel.
The Society confirms a delivery this morning and four patrons brought to the airport. Any other cars heading up the road off the highway will be detained.
I pull the cop car over the crest and ease my way down the steep part of the slope, lots of heads looking up in our direction. As I approach, a purple robe appears at the door. Now we're getting someplace. I hadn't seen a purple robe on our prior surveillance.
I drive slowly down the dirt drive, park a respectable distance from the door. We aren't trying to spook them, no lights, no fast cop car moves, we don't hop out of the car. As a matter of fact, I pretend to talk into the radio and scribble notes while purple robe stands with his hands behind his back in a monkly pose of purity and beneficence. Never trust a smiley face monk.
I nod to Chan, he eases out of the car, the passenger side groans and rises a couple of inches. I float out of the driver's side, big wide fake cop smile. Never trust a smiling cop.
“Good morning, sir. I'm Sergeant Middleton, this is Officer Chung,” no point in pretending Chan isn't Chinese.
Purple One, “I am Francis, Abbot of the Order. How may we assist you?”
“Sir, we have a missing child, missing in Sandoval County,” I show him a grainy photo that could be anyone's kid, “recognize her?”
Purple One does a nice job of studying the photo, “This child is not here. When did she go missing?”
Purple One, “Our children have all been here longer than a month, our most recent orphan was six months ago, Adelaide, over there, the little waif on the end, only barely past toddler, nothing like the child in the photo.”
“Yes, sir. You see, I have to look around the premises, just in case, you understand.”
Purple One, “This is a church, officer, sanctified ground. I am afraid I cannot permit..”
I flip open the search warrant, hand it to him, then lean over to whisper in his ear, “Sir, I'm afraid you will have to permit, or I will cuff you, which is indecorous, and we will search anyway. Now, I don't think the child is here, but that's above my pay grade. So if you will permit us a quick walk through, we'll be invisible in ten minutes and you can explain to whoever that you are helping the police find a poor lost child.”
Purple One is arrogant, which is a form of stupidity, but he isn't entirely stupid, he smiles and lies, (ever notice how the two go hand in hand?) “Of course, we welcome visitors. Please, do come in.”
I turn to Chan, “Walk the outbuildings, to make sure the kid didn't sneak in and is hiding. I’ll take the main house with Abbot Francis and we can get back to coffee and doughnuts.”
I get a chuckle out of Purple One.
Chan nods, starts towards a barn. There are only two outbuildings, the barn and the chicken coop.
I’m touring the monastery with Francis when Chan joins us, “Nothing.”
“Just as we thought,” I smile idiotically at Abbot Francis.
Every detail inside is being fed to Janah. When I have Francis down in the basement, I turn, backhand him hard, then shove my fingers in his throat, he gasps, chokes, I feel him trying to send me flying, I am so riveted on my task, it's like a flea crawling along my arm, “Abbot Abuse, your days as a child pimp are coming to an immediate close.”
I turn to Chan, “Shut him down, quickly and permanently, before he can reach out to the others. ”
A couple of objects fly through the air, Chan swats them away, Purple One doesn't have much to work with down here, Chan snaps his neck like a rotted log. We leave him limp and go to the first floor.
I check in with Janah, cars are pouring over the crest and down to the front of the building. Children are confused, screeching and yelling. They are taken to vans and loaded inside to get them safe and contained, not to relocate. The Society will deal with them here, in their home, rather than take them to a world they've never seen.
Nikko and Zi join us in the main room, the adults outside have been neutered with a syringe of barbiturate; whatever they are, they aren't Shadows, there was little resistance at our show of official looking personnel with Child Protection or cop uniforms. Impersonating an officer is against the law, but then so is snapping a guy’s neck without the sanction of the state.
“Nikko, take Chan and sweep the building. He can spot Shadows, there are two more Purples we know of, and the four Blacks. I didn't get the impression from our prior visit that the Blacks are Shadows, but they might be initiates and have some skill.”
She nods, they go up the stairs, Zi and I start roaming through the first floor. It's a big place, six floors. If we start at the top, the adults remaining may have other exits we don’t know about. Janah and Amaya are monitoring the exterior, there are outside fire escapes on both sides, none in the rear.
The main hall is decorated with images of Indian Gods, Buddha, Jesus, Lord Mahavir, last of twenty four Jain Gods, and pictures of gurus that appear to be Sikh. One stop shopping, lots of Gods and a selection of children to abuse. The Catholics do it differently, one God, lots of children. Furniture is mahogany, there are Persian carpets here and there. Nothing in the first room, an office with office stuff, we cross the hall to the kitchen, nobody cooking, but the counters are covered with preparations and pots are still warm.
I open the big pantry, ah hah, two cooks, brown robes and aprons. One has a kitchen knife, the other a skillet.
They come charging, Zi grabs the hand holding the knife, steps in with her shoulder to keep the arm straight, then breaks his elbow. Knife clatters to the tile floor, she spins her elbow, smacks him just above the ear and he’s down.
Skillet hasn't seen me, I'm behind the door. I see the iron pan rise, I kick the door, the skillet goes flying and there's a thump against the door. I step around and put my titanium covered knuckles into her face. She wasn't cute to start with, she's a mess now. I pick up her skillet and whack her on the side of the head, she joins Knife on the tile. Zi has Knife's wrists wired together, is doing his ankles, I do the same for Skillet, we move on.
“Check the freezer.”
She opens the door of the walk-in freezer, everything is frozen, no people. There are two restrooms left to check.
Nothing in the ladies, a lady in the men's. I suppose she thought we'd be confused and just leave. She is docile.
Lady, “Don't hurt me. I'm not fighting anyone.”
I put my pointy serrated knife a millimeter from Lady's eyeball, “Give me a headcount, not children, adults.”
She hesitates, I tap the white of her eye, just barely, screech, then, “The Abbot, two Elders.”
“The purple robes?”
“Um, four Initiates, black robes. Everyone else is staff or guards.”
“Brown robes, how many, males and females?”
“Six women, three men, guards don't wear robes. There are four.”
Zi ties her, tapes her mouth. We continue.
“Let's find our associates.”
Up the stairs, there are three people all nicely tied and taped, one is unconscious with a rather large purple knot on his head. The second floor is bedrooms. There are a dozen, built like hotel rooms, nicely appointed. Clearly this is where the children are taken privately. The tied ones are two guards and a brown robed female.
I hear Zi down the hall, Nikko stays by the stairs to discourage early checkouts, I go to the room on the end. Chan and Zi are there, so are the guests. Two are on the floor in a state of extreme discomfort, four are lined up against the wall. I presumed the two tried to fight it out, the four quickly saw the futility of dealing with two Shaolin, one of them Chan. Of course, they don't know we're Shaolin, they did figure out they had no chance.
Zi and I start wiring them up.
“Checked all the rooms on this floor?”
Zi, “There is a presence across the hall, haven't had time to find out who.”
I nod at Chan, he crosses the hall and turns the knob, locked, he demolishes it. I'm behind him, good thing I'm taller, Chan is as wide as the doorway. I see a man standing. He's taller than Chan, and as thick, but a lot of it is gut. He holding a gun.
Gun Man, “Back out, I'm outta here.”
I mumble, “Step left,” tap Chan on the left shoulder. Chan moves left, I zing a shuriken into Gun Man's forehead, I see his finger beginning to squeeze, crap, Zi is behind me in the room across the hall. I'm holding four shuriken, no time to throw them.
I downshift my brain, tap into the eagle, Gun Man pulls the trigger, I see the dull glow coming down the barrel and exit. I hold up the palm of my hand and hope four shuriken can stop a bullet.
Smack! Ouch. The nose of the bullet is resting against the palm of my hand. I vow to get thicker shuriken. He's shocked, tries to fire again, except Chan kicks in, the gun is turning red, flesh sizzles, he drops it. Chan is on him. Gun man gives it a go, hits Chan twice, one in the jaw with a left jab, followed by a right cross. Chan ducks his head, the fist hits the top of his skull and Gun Man has both a burned and broken right hand. Chan presses his fingers together like a duck's bill and taps the Dim Mak point on his chest. Gun Man's heart explodes, blood runs from his mouth as he drops with a heavy…thunk!
“Guess we can skip wiring him.”
We return to the other room, I ask, “Who was that guy?”
The man on the end of Zi's lineup says, “My bodyguard, guess I shouldn’t have given him the day off.”
I stifle the smile I feel coming on, “No sweat, where you're going, there's lots of guards twenty four seven.”
We move on and join Nikko. I check in with Janah. No one trying to escape.
“Let's stay together for now. There are thirteen left, and they have to be on the next four floors. Janah says no one has gone out the fire escapes.”
We climb to the third floor, bedrooms for staff, doors closed.