Chapter Nine V
The morning fog clung to the city like the scent of depression on an aging drag queen……why do I talk like this?
Nameless detective in the film Zen Noir, by Marc Rosenbush
Janah, in the temple garden, hears me in her head, There’s a problem, come to the office please.
Janah appears in a few minutes, she’d been planting and potting the entire morning and hadn’t followed anything going on in my mind.
I’m in Janah’s office with Nikko, she says, “Chan and I were just at Fong’s. A man entered the restaurant to pick up a takeout order. He caught Chan’s attention, his back was to them, he was at the register. I could see Chan smelled trouble. He said to return here and that you should not to leave for any reason. He left through the kitchen. We haven’t heard from him yet.”
Janah, “The prospect of another Dark One is the only thing to have pulled Chan away with such a serious warning.”
“Geez, are these people growing on trees?”
Nikko, “What if he recognizes Chan? Or, if there are several, there was food for more than two.”
Janah, “Then there may be trouble. But I don’t think this was an actual master. First, they don’t run errands to pick up lunch. They have students or gofers who do that. Chan is following him to his master. When he finds out what he needs to know, he’ll come back here, or call us. We can only wait. I’m going to meditation. Let me know as soon as Chan arrives. He may call, but I think he’ll likely just show up, unless he thinks he’s been discovered. That would mean the master is good, a mere student would never know Chan is on to him.”
Janah goes to Tan’s hut. She drops into deep, powerful qi meditation. David Li sees the bamboo that separates the gardens from the hut tremble and shake, something that the sturdy stalks never do, confined as they are within high temple walls. Clearly, the young Abbess is exerting tremendous force. He peers through the thick bamboo, there is a brilliant light inside the small hut, as there is no door, the light spills out, visible even in the bright afternoon sun.
David comes down to the training grounds. He speaks quietly to gung fu Master Kahn who suspends practice and sends the monks to the meditation hall. They are to sit in qi meditation until the Abbess releases them.
They do not ask how long it would be, they do not ask why. There is a serious matter to which their Abbess must attend.
David has seen her using the most extreme form of qi he’s ever witnessed, clearly she is not in the hut amusing herself. His animal friends tell him the rest. Master Chan is following someone. The birds say the man Chan follows is one of the Dark Ones. The emanations from him are scarlet, like blood. The birds can see this clearly. We could too, if we were as attentive, or less attentive to daily superficialities.
A man carrying two bags of takeout enters the door of a smallish building housing a wholesale hardware supply warehouse. It isn’t far from Fong’s, less than a mile east and south, near the Brooklyn Bridge. He climbs stairs to the top floor of the three story building. The first two floors are hardware and plumbing supplies. On the third, an old man, another about forty, two younger ones, then the one who comes with the food. They call him Food Boy, as the youngest and least experienced, he gets the menial tasks.
FB, “I sensed a presence in Fong’s, but I saw no one who made me suspicious. When I went in, there were several tables of customers, a Chinese man and a Japanese girl sitting with Fong. I felt a sensation on the back of my neck. When I left, I glanced at the table, there was only the old woman and the Japanese. The man with them was gone. Since he didn’t leave the restaurant, I presumed he had gone to the restroom. But the sensation had left me.”
OM, “You are a fool. But that is to be expected, you are young and have not yet grasped the ability. Did you think I would let you wander the streets alone? I have been following you in my mind. You had the misfortune to stumble on a Shaolin dog. Not just any master, a qi master of the highest order. I do not know him, yet. I know he will have followed you here, and he is as near as your heartbeat, even now. I feel him in the building.”
FB, “Forgive me sir. I did not know.”
OM, “There is no forgiveness. You must atone for your ignorance. It will be a lesson. You and the others find the pest. Bring him to me….if you can.”
The others get up slowly, hesitant, look around at each other. Fourth is the most experienced, Second and Third had trained for four years, neither especially gifted. FB, the youngest, with only two years training had worked diligently, which is why he felt anything in the restaurant at all. Fourth is advanced. Not at the OM’s level, not nearly. Not close to Chan or Janah, but sensitive, and capable of gathering a great deal of internal energy.
Fourth, “This will be a good test. There are only three floors, he’s not on this one, so he’s on the first or second. Food Boy and I will take the first floor. You two take the second. You will feel his presence. If you don’t, it’s nothing to worry about. You will be dead and your troubles over.”
The four bow to the OM, out the door and down the stairway. Two to the second floor warehouse, two to the first. They search for an hour, nothing. Not a scent or a feeling. The first floor searchers return to the second, one stands guard at the door, they search the second floor again, still nothing.
Fourth, “The Shaolin has left. No doubt when he sensed us coming after him. Not such a big deal after all.”
They go upstairs.
OM is on his back, awake, but unable to move. He cannot speak. His disciples sit around him and collectively do their best to pour their energy into him. After two hours, he begins to blink. An hour later he stirs and is able to sit up. They carry him to a chair.
He sits silently staring. The four wait.
Chan appears at the temple. The monks are still in meditation. Janah comes down from the hut and enters the meditation hall with Chan and me.
“I am thankful for the blessing of your diligence. Master Chan has been dealing with most serious matters outside the temple, has now returned safely to us. He is unharmed, as you can see. In great part, his safe return is due to your silent meditation. Please, take time to rest. We will not have formal evening meditation. Goodnight my beloved brothers and sisters.”
The monks rise, some to their rooms, some to the library, others in the dining hall in groups, talking. I make evening tea, chamomile and valerian. Janah, Nikko, Chan and I sit with Master Kahn.
Chan, “There exists, in the lower east side, near the Brooklyn Bridge, a small clan of the ignorant. One is the teacher, an old man named Huang, four others are students. One student is reasonably accomplished, the other three are children in the art.”
Kahn, “I know of Huang. I thought him gone long ago. He was not a student here, but in a temple near New York. He talked his way into advanced qi training, there was a master there, dead now for years. He taught Huang, but Huang was ambitious. A direct transmission was attempted due to his persuasiveness, too soon for his mind to absorb. He became unbalanced, almost deranged. It took a year for him to recover, but recover is the wrong word, he never recovered. He had been transmitted skills, but not discipline. He is a rogue, and uses his skills as tricks to deceive and steal.”
Chapter Ten V
There is a general tendency to overestimate the probability of conjunctive events (for success, each of a series of events must occur) leading to unwarranted optimism in the evaluation of the success of a project.
Conversely, the probability of failure is underestimated in complex systems—disjunction, the probability that a single component will fail.
Kahneman and Tversky, Judgment Under Uncertainty
In their near empty warehouse floor Huang and his students are quiet. He does not speak for a time, deciding what to do.
Then, “I send you to find one monk and he appears in my room as if you didn’t exist.”
Fourth, “Sir, he wasn’t in the first floor, I would have sensed him. We searched the second again, again he was not there.”
“Do you think he materializes out of thin air? Idiot!! His skill exceeds yours by infinity. I am forced to admit his skill exceeds mine, as he clearly demonstrated. I was unable to sense him myself and found him standing before me. Now he is aware of us, and we must assume at least some in the temple now know of our presence. They are obliged to root us out.”
Second, “Do they fear us? Why do they want to find us at all?”
“Our activities violate their vows. They are arrogant, and believe they own the rights to the power of the universe. Qi is for all diligent enough to learn, and is to be used as one sees fit. Pious and self righteous, they want to hoard the skills for themselves.”
He conveniently skips the fact it was the Shaolin who taught him, then saved him when his mind broke. He further conveniently rationalizes the part where he uses what he retained and built on to steal money and minds.
FB, “What do we do?”
“First, abandon this place, find another and quickly. I obtained this one by using the skill to control the owner. In his mind, we are students of the Buddha, he believes he is helping us, and we also act as convenient watchdogs for his property. He feels compelled to provide the space. He cannot explain it to himself, it doesn’t occur to him, such is my power over his mind. You must find another. Tomorrow, go out and look for a suitable spot. There must be a single owner, with a house, a building, something empty. I will visit him and he will give us the space we need.”
Third disciple, “I am eager to learn such control over others. Your skills amaze me yet.”
“Am I not teaching you daily? Do you wish to lose your mind, as happened to me? Had I not been mentally strong, I would have remained deluded to this day. I could not remain in the temple, they felt responsible, but only to a point. My ways were no longer their ways, as they would train me no further, it made no sense to stay.”
FB, “What do we do with this monk, must he not be dealt with? Will he not seek us out again?”
“It will be his duty. We will not be free of him until one of us is dead.”
Fourth, “Why did he not kill you this very night, and the rest of us?”
“It is our good fortune that he is young, he will want to consult others before taking such a step. I assume he is doing exactly that now.”
In this, he’s right....almost. Chan didn't want to have to kill the others, which would have been necessary had he terminated the master.
At the temple, Chan is discussing what he had learned with Janah, Nikko, Kahn and me.
“The Dark One has significant power. It was no simple matter to get inside his mind. Had Master J not been in deep Qi meditation, I may not have succeeded as quickly as I did. He attempted to kill me, I felt a deep vibration in my brain and was weakened. The monk’s meditation and Master J’s intensity kept me from being overwhelmed, I was able to pin him to his chair and his fear took over. It is his weakness, he knows he’s violated the teachings and his vows. That knowledge binds him just enough to provide an opening. That is not to say he is weak, but he is vulnerable.”
Janah, “He’ll relocate as soon as possible. He’s going to be on alert for your presence. Daphne and Nikko will go to this warehouse and watch. They’ll follow him and his disciples and find out where he goes. I’m guessing he’s sending his disciples out in the morning to find that location. He will himself move immediately, and his disciples will return to him when they have uncovered a suitable spot. Did he have a phone?”
Chan, “There was one on the table next to him. I have the number.”
Janah, “He will get another, surely he knows you have it. That’s okay. It’s only important because I think, if I were him, I wouldn’t want to hang around until the disciples return, he’ll suspect they’re being followed. So he’ll get a new phone, and they will call with the new location. He won’t want to rent space. He must gain control of it by manipulating the owner, which means he has to meet with him at some point. The only one we have to track for now is Huang. Assume he may be able to discern that he’s being watched. My guess is that the watchers must be in some reasonable physical proximity. He’s not omniscient, he suspected Chan’s presence. Probably told his disciples he felt you there. It would have been good PR. Even if he did, he was obviously unaware of your exact location, or he wouldn’t have sent his disciples to find you.”
“We’ll get monitoring equipment from the Society. We can keep our distance and still follow him to his temporary hideout. If he moves, we’ll follow him to his new permanent location.”
Nikko, “What’s the point?”
“I see what you mean. This Shaolin gone bad has to be dealt with no matter what. Why not do it while his life is in turmoil.”
“Mistress is quick to understand.”
“Mistress was very slow not to think of it in the first place. Thank you. I’ll punish you later for your insight.”
Nikko’s eyes sparkle. Janah can’t help but laugh.
“You two would figure out a way to flirt in the middle of a yakuza gang war. You’re both incorrigible.”
I smile vaguely and stare out the window, “Master J will think of a plan to rid ourselves of the qi wannabees. Nikko and I best get moving if we’re going to follow him.”
Chan, “Why not use birds. OM will never know.”
“Dang, what a splendid idea, everybody is outsmarting me today thank goodness. Should Janah do it, or do we need David Li?”
“Master J can send the initial one or two, to keep an eye on OM’s location. If he moves we will know when and where. I will see David and describe OM and the others. The birds will find them. We will know where everyone is.”
Chan talks to David while Janah reaches out for the pigeons. Half a dozen show up in a minute and strut around her. She makes it clear there is serious work to do. They stop their play and are still. She explains the location exactly, that they were to look for an old man, white hair cut very short. He wears darkened glasses all the time, how he is dressed, his mannerisms and his stature. He would stand very erect, walk silently, not heavy footed or clumsy. Anyone in his way on the street would step aside without knowing why.”
Whatever building he enters, they will watch every exit to see if he reemerges. If he goes into the subway tunnels, they would follow him.
The birds lift off as a group, and fly directly in the southeast direction Janah indicated.
Curious students and a few disciples peer into the garden area where David is surrounded by a flock of birds. There must be fifty pigeons. They keep a short distance away as a Boreal owl settles on his shoulder. A Peregrine falcon pair lands in front of him.
He strokes the birds’ heads, students marvel at the sight, fascinated by his facility with the normally cautious animals.
David turns to the owl on his shoulder, it is clear there a message is being delivered. Then he gently strokes the two falcons, they fly off together. The pigeons wait for instruction. When David is finished, the flock arises as one, circles the monastery, and like a starburst, fly off in all directions.
The owl leaves David’s shoulder and flies to my outstretched arm. He recognizes one of his own, and we commune silently for a time, the bird screeches and flies toward the southeast.
If Huang moves in the dead of night, it won’t matter. The owl will follow. He travels in the subway tunnels often, lots of fresh food lives in the tunnels, mice and rats. Huang can never escape him there. David’s friends have no problem doing service in the work of tracking humans up to treachery. They are the most observant living things on the planet, and the few humans who understand them have an overwhelming advantage. The Society’s sophisticated tracking devices are no match for the attentive flying creatures. They see in a completely different dimension, they see wavelengths of light unobservable to humans, know the magnetic pull of the Earth, they hear everything. They have to, it’s how they survive and thrive. It doesn’t matter if the enemy is an onrushing subway train, a taxi, a man with a gun or another animal predator. Lose your focus, die. It is hard, but it is hardly complicated.
Nikko, “Now what?”
Janah, “Now we do what a good monk does best, nothing. Events will come to us. We don’t need to go chasing them.”
Chapter Eleven V
Soy un perdedor
At three in the morning, one of the pigeons returns. He lands on David’s knee, they cock their heads at each other, the bird flies off.
David, “Man moved to a small hotel. The owl has heard him on the fifth floor in an interior room which faces only a brick wall. Do you want to find this one? If you do, the owl says to send the tall one, she can best read his instruction. He is curious where she got the skill. Owls are always curious.”
Chan, “What about the others. You’ve heard nothing from the birds.”
“They must have moved further afield. First they have to find them from our description and look for ones with the darkness. They will not fail us.”
Chan leaves to see Janah.
“Huang moved?” she asks.
“Yes, but not far, a small hotel. The pigeons know the location. The owl will be there when Daphne arrives. The owl knows the specific room, he wants Daphne, curious how she learned his skills. David says the owls are the most aloof, but the most curious.”
“Sounds like a mixture of Daphne and Nikko. Send them both. Tell them to take Huang and send him to his hell. He will give Daphne and Nikko significant challenges, but they need to learn how to deal with Dark Ones.”
As we prepare, Chan tells Janah, “Huang will not be so easy. You realize that of course. They will not come back unmarked. It is not out of the question that he could kill one or the other.”
Janah, “Do I never send them on a difficult challenge as a precaution? Daphne would see that instantly, she is me. If he hurts them, so be it.”
She smiles sardonically, “I doubt that he will want to aggravate Nikko too much. She will only prolong his suffering. You and I will go into qi meditation as back up batteries.”
Chan, “What about the others?”
Janah, “I don’t know, let’s see what happens with Huang first. Keep an eye on the four students. There will be confusion when they can’t locate their master.”
Suddenly four pigeons flap down noisily around David Li. They strut and peck at the grain he has for them. To him, it is clear they have important news, and their breasts swell as they parade.
“The pigeons are teasing me, they have news and they want to be playful, to let me see what good work they have done.”
He holds out both hands, two birds sit on his knees, the others in front of him settle on the ground to rest.
“You have learned much, tell me.”
He strokes the pigeon’s neck on his left knee, then the one on the right. The birds want their treat and a touch from the human who knows their language. They coo softly. The ones in front of him groom themselves, it is evident they are tired and have been busy during the night, unusual for them, they are not nocturnal animals.
David Li, “All have been located. They have settled in for the night, when they stir in the daylight, we will follow. They have been in subways, then walking. They write on papers they carry, then move on.”
He’s quiet, focused on the birds, “Fourth went with the youngest, to Brooklyn I think, they don't know place names. The other two went together to the Bronx, where the people gather to watch games.”
Chan goes to Janah.
Janah, “They have to wait until the Huang calls them. I’m sure they have no phone number for him, he will bide his time before he contacts them. And now you and I go to meditate.”
It’s a small cheap hotel, not far from the East River. Huang went a few blocks and found a place on the underside of Chinatown, on the edge of an industrial section of Manhattan. There was a sleepy desk clerk, it would have been a simple matter to take his mind and get a room key. But he decided to pay, then disappeared up five flights of barely lit stairs. He carried a small satchel, which looked close enough to luggage. The clerk didn’t care if he came in nude. Just rent the room and go back to his nap.
I stand across the street, there is a Whoosh!! above my head. I look up at an owl about the size of a kid’s bowling ball, sitting on a sign sticking out over a bakery. I turn my head purposely toward the owl, looking behind myself.
Can’t tell if he’s impressed, he blinks, incapable of physical expression, What do you hear human?
Your dinner is waiting for you near the dumpster in the alley. He’s busy nibbling at the garbage, the rat won’t even feel you coming.
The owl studies me, Where did you learn?
From a great horned owl in the north, I describe the big bird.
I know them, magnificent hunters, he taught you to hear better I see, you hear the mouse in the alley. And to see in the dark as well I presume. For fun he taught you how to turn your head around almost backwards. He must have gotten quite a laugh. It was very painful no doubt.
I passed out.
You’re lucky he didn’t break your neck. He must have liked you.
The child you met was with us and the white haired girl can talk a bit with the animals as well. We were all there together. We will return in the summer, the eagle has promised to further improve my sight; he said he could not improve on the hearing I received from your cousin, nor my ability to see in the dark.
That explains his kindness then. Almost no humans speak with animals. Your prey is in the middle room, not the top, the next floor. He is evil to the core. Kill him and think no more of it. Hungry now, I will kill my prey, you must kill yours.
The bird leaves silently. As I enter the seedy hotel, I hear the tiniest squeak, then nothing. I wonder if he thinks I’ll eat my kill as he eats his.
Nikko and I slip the clerk, asleep in a small alcove behind the front desk. We probably could have come in playing a boom box the kid is snoring so loud.
I pick up what is obviously a housekeeper’s passkey. We ease up the stairs separately, when I clear the first two flights, I use the passkey to open a door of an empty room, then let it slam shut. Nikko starts up, then waits until I’m at the top of the fourth. We are motionless for ten minutes. I go down the hall, open and shut another door, more quietly this time, find another empty room on the fifth floor, wait for five more minutes. I’m in room next to Huang’s. I open and close a drawer on the dresser, then flush the toilet, turn on the TV and leave. Nikko uses the time I’m making new arrival noises to make her way to the fifth floor landing. His room is in the middle of a short hall, I’m already at one side of his door, Nikko at the top of the stairs.
How did I know the rooms I opened were empty? If there had been anyone in it, just breathing, much less snoring, I’d have heard them through the door. My door opening and closing is just distraction, like people coming and going as in any hotel.
Nikko draws her katana as I slide the key into the lock. He’d clicked the deadbolt, dang, I step back and kick in the door. It flies open, slams the wall, Bang! I enter the room, Nikko behind me, sword held to her side.
Huang isn’t startled; he is seated cross-legged on the bed. His head turns slowly, he sneers a half smile.
“The Shaolin send two women, one not even Shaolin? The first monk had great power. I do not sense that level of qi in either of you. Do you think I would balk at killing women? You are not even human to me, like stepping on one of the cockroaches that share this hotel with its guests.”
“You going to talk us to death, or can you do something more interesting? Best make it quick, I have to get back for morning meditation or they make me do extra pushups.”
He glares at me, angry at my insolence and confused by my indifference, “Perhaps this will amuse you.”
I find myself pushed against the door, hard, it cracks. I flip a shuriken at him, he avoids it with a twist of his head. He avoids another, laughing. Then one catches him in the arm, he isn’t laughing anymore.
I use the millisecond distraction to leap forward and crack him across the chest with my foot. He rolls backwards with the blow, pulling out the shuriken at the same time and sailing it at Nikko. She slices though the metal star with her katana like it’s a piece of cardboard, the two pieces sail harmlessly on either side of her.
The chain comes from around my waist, he dodges the whip, but its speed is so great, he can’t locate it. All he can do is use his energy to keep me at a distance. A plate on the end table leaves its place, hits me squarely in the shoulder, it shatters, numbing my arm.
“Is that? Best have more up your sleeve than flying saucers.”
His stare stops me in my tracks momentarily, Nikko slides forward, he turns to her and holds out his hand. Nikko doubles over, as if she’d been hit with a bat. She grimaces, looks up at Huang, her eyes so empty they make his cold blood freeze.
Nikko, “Prepare yourself.”
He leaps towards her, extends his hand, a wound appears on her arm, blood trickles through her shirt.
Enough is enough. The blur of my chain removes his hand, Nikko’s katana removes his head. He doesn’t have time to register the shock. Hand hits the floor, then the head, double thunk. The body falls back on the bed.
Nikko and I are back in the temple twenty minutes later. No one had seen us go in, except the owl. No one had seen us leave, not even the owl, who was finishing his late snack about the time OM lost his head.
Chapter Twelve V
It is very dangerous to be reasonable with stupid people.
We’re in Janah’s office. She treats Nikko’s wound and Chan applies healing qi to my shoulder. The bleeding starts up again as Janah cleans it, she lays her hand over the wound, deep enough to need a couple of stitches. The blood flow stops, she makes the wound cold and stitches it on the spot after injecting Lidocaine.
She covers it with a large bandage, “I’ll clean it again after we rest.”
Nikko nods. My shoulder is bruised, badly, swollen and a lovely ugly purple black. Janah applies liniment, the shoulder cold from Chan’s treatment. In our room, Janah examines Nikko’s bruised stomach more closely as she lay on the mat. Nikko goes to the toilet, no blood in her urine. Still, a remarkable blow from a few feet using only qi.
He violated his vows for nearly thirty years and had gotten away with it until he had the misfortune to send Food Boy to Fong’s. Chan’s sensitivity kept the Dark One from spreading more misery.
I’d taken his cell. Chan calls the last number dialed. There are only two calls to the same number, a phone carried by Fourth.
“Your master is at the East River Hotel, room five twenty two.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who is this?”
“The door is unlocked,” Chan disconnects.
His headless body isn’t going anywhere, a least until the police appear. His disciples sure wouldn’t call them. Janah will notify the cops early tomorrow, she wants his students to realize their predicament.
The door is shut, but unlocked since I’d kicked it in, I’d closed it as best I could. The patrons of the hotel are few, not inclined to be nosy. It’s the kind of place that discourages interest in other occupants. More than a few of the guests are avoiding the law, not looking for it.
Fourth has enough sense to send Food Boy and one other to check out the room. They find the decapitated body and a hand lying next to the head.
They rush back with the news, wide eyed and shaken. Fourth decides that sticking together is a bad idea. Without a master, he knows the others are too inept to hang with.
Fourth, “Evaporate, and under no circumstances contact one another. If I see any of you again, you won’t see anything again. The Shaolin are on to us, and they will not rest until we’re found. The only thing to do is to leave New York, make tracking us too much trouble.”
FB, “But won’t they be concerned about our training? We have limited skills, but some nonetheless. You in particular. I do not mean to be disrespectful, I am the youngest and least skilled. Why don’t we go to them and acknowledge our error? In that way we may not have to look over our shoulders forever.”
He’s actually using good sense. But the Fourth is too full of himself to relent.
“If you go to the Shaolin, they will kill you, fool. Even if they don’t, then I will. I am telling you to leave the city, go far away. Find a new life while you still have a life. Now go. Hope you never see me again.”
None of them have money of their own, the odd jobs they worked won’t miss them. Fourth gives them part of the cash Huang left with him. A couple thousand for each of the three, five for himself. They leave, the birds divide up into groups of four or five and follow.
Janah calls Marsconi at seven the next morning.
“There is rumor of a body in the East River Hotel, room 522. I regret disturbing you so early, but I don’t want some poor housekeeper to come on what I have been told is quite a brutal scene.”
Marsconi, “Who’s dead?’
Janah, “I have it on good authority that he will not be missed. In fact, no one will come forward to ask about his death. It is guaranteed that he created much misery over many years, and that further misery was surely inevitable. I am certain you will find a gang of some sort to be involved, but the perpetrators will not be found. If I come across any further information that will be useful, be assured I will contact you personally.”
Marsconi sighs, “There’s no point in any further questions I suppose.’
Janah, “You are free to ask anything you wish.”
Marsconi, “And you won’t give me any meaningful answer.”
Janah, “I could have had the call made anonymously. I choose not to. You and Jocelyn are good friends. I trust we can remain so.”
Marsconi, “You know better than to think I’m going to press you for details. You, your girls and your monks do nothing but service to the community. Only occasionally does that service involve me having to fill out a bunch of paperwork. It’s worth it. Besides, Jocelyn would have my head if I gave you any grief. Not to mention Mrs. Fong. Maybe we can get this cleaned up before the press starts nosing around.”
Janah, “No one they would remotely recognize, or of any news value, died. It’s a sleazebag hotel. If your people get busy, you’ll be in and out before the press has gotten down its first latte.”
Marsconi hangs up. Janah quizzes us about any evidence.
“Nikko’s injury hadn’t bled anyplace but on her, I checked. We wore watch caps and normal refocusing gear. I recovered all the shuriken. We wore our reinforced gloves, no fingerprints. Nikko cleaned her katana thoroughly, including wiping down the blade with bleach. If any blood splattered, it never touched the tsuka. I soaked the shuriken and my waist chain in bleach.
Janah, “And Marsconi will have enough sense not to bother to vacuum a floor in a fleabag hotel for stray hairs they are unlikely to find of any use. He’ll know from the beheading who had been in the room, He will also know there is a good reason for it. He has a lot to do. Chasing either Shaolin or Samurai ghosts would be a waste of his time.”
The rest of the day is spent resting. Janah stays in the garden with Chan and David. A pigeon or two returns from time to time, letting them know the location of the four. Janah doesn’t want any more death. The disciples aren’t Shaolin, they had taken no vows, broken no code. She decides what to do.
Black and Chan sit with Fourth. They explain his situation.
Black, “You made a grievous error in following him. You are greedy and will always want more for yourself, at the cost of whoever is in your way.
Fourth, “I have learned a lesson, I wish to trouble no one.”
Black, “Don’t take me for a fool, bitch. You’re a liar to the bone.”
Fourth can’t yet get it out of his mind that he is a powerful force, over which the Shaolin have no control. He tries to push back Black, nothing. He attempts to deliver a qi strike to Chan’s abdomen, Chan blinks at him, puts his hand out and sends Fourth flying against the wall. He slumps to the floor.
“Point taken,” he wheezes, “What do you want?”
Black, “Give it up. You will be followed, you won’t sense, you won’t know who is following. Step out of line, I will take you myself. If any harm comes to any being as a result of your actions, you are a walking dead man.
Black’s massive fist loosens a few teeth, “Stay far away, live a life of purity and compassion and you may die an old man. Do otherwise, and you will surely die before age takes you. Choice is yours.”
Fourth is trying to control his pain. Chan has taken his mind, the pain continues. He begins to whimper.
Black, “There is no shame in recognizing your many limitations. Turn your life into something useful and live. If you can’t be useful, then at least do no harm. Do you understand?”
Fourth nods, but in his current state, they know he would agree to sawing off his own arm if it meant getting them gone.
Chan, “He is a liar. His corruption is without limit. Waste no more time here. He will be dead within a year.”
Black, “Then I’ll take him now and we can move on.”
Chan, “That is not our instruction.”
Fourth pleads for help, then curses the Shaolin as they leave. Chan can see his demeanor, understands his mid is warped beyond redemption. Black or Nikko, or someone unknown, would erase him from the living before the year Chan gave him.
As they return to the temple, Black asks, “What did you see?”
Chan, “He agreed out of his pain. He believes if he applies more to his training he can neutralize us. He does not understand that the real power is not a consequence of his training. He can become quite a formidable force, he will heal his own injuries, not perfectly but enough to give him greater confidence. He will have to be removed by force.”
“So we failed.”
“There is no failure or success. There is only what happens. In his case, he will die. We may not even have to carry out the sentence. His arrogance won’t let him dodge a bullet. He’ll take on a ruthless enemy out of overconfidence.”
“What do we tell Master J?”
Chan looks at him.
Black, “Stupid question. We just tell her what happened. She’ll figure out the rest.”