Sunday, July 17, 2011

Girl Fights Back (Go No Sen), ch. 2... Enjoy!

That day, her father picked her up from the dojo in the family car. That was their little joke. It was a black limousine, not huge or stretched out. But it was obviously solid. It belonged to the family her father worked for. He was their driver, though it was not clear exactly where his duties ended, or what he might be asked to do, or when.

He was not a physically imposing man. He was only a couple of inches taller than her and maybe thirty pounds heavier. He was wiry and strong, but deceptively so. He did not train extensively, just a few push-ups, a few sit-ups, a few pull-ups, a few laps around the estate where they lived. But she sensed that, like Sensei, he was much stronger than he had any right to be, than anyone might suspect. Of course, he hardly ate at all, seemed not even to like food. A few vegetables, maybe some beans, some fruit, a bowl of rice. That was his diet. They ate dinner together most nights. She wasn’t sure he ate any other meals. He was in his early forties, though most people on first meeting him would probably assume that he was ten years younger than that.

Emily knew that he remained young because he was essentially young at heart. She saw his playful side, she basked in his love. But to everyone else he seemed to be made of stone. A cool customer. He hardly spoke, never laughed. Just listened with an immovable expression on his face. When his employer, Mr. Cardano, asked him to do something, he did it, quickly, efficiently, without comment. Cardano had come to rely on his impassivity. It was as secure as the Catholic confessional. Sometimes, he was gone from the estate for a few days, never more than a week. He never told her what he did on these trips. She didn’t ask anymore. For the most part, however, he drove the family car.
When he had a day off, they would go camping on the estate. It was very large, well over a thousand acres, much of it densely forested hills. There were plenty of obscure places to set up a lean-to and not be able to see or hear anything from the estate buildings. They liked to pretend that they were survivalists. They would bring no food with them, and only minimal gear. Could they go two days eating only what they found in the forest? It was all in fun, of course. Even if they found nothing, they wouldn’t starve in two days.

But it was a kind of mental exercise for Emily. There was a thrill in solving the problems each day would bring. Find water. Catch some game. Start a fire. Eat a bug? Build a trap. Choose a campsite, set up a perimeter, arrange branches and twigs in the underbrush to alert them to the approach of a stranger in the night. And above all, avoid the cameras!

There were security cameras all over the estate. Mostly they were pointed at the perimeter fences and walls. But there were others aimed at the approaches to the buildings. A constant theme of their survivalist games was to avoid letting the cameras see them. For as long as Emily could remember, her father had insisted on including this game in their outings. It was fun. It was like being a guerilla or a commando, stalking an enemy compound. She got to be pretty good at spotting the cameras before they saw her. But her father always seemed to know where one would be, even before they came near it. She thought that maybe he could hear some faint whirring sound, or perhaps he just understood how the security team who installed them thought.

Emily eventually developed her own sense for the cameras, too. It wasn’t based on a whirring sound, or any deep insight into the locations where they were placed. She simply began to see the terrain the way the cameras did. She understood them, or the people looking at the monitors at the other end of them. When the land looked a certain way, she knew there would have to be a camera nearby. She became an invisible partner of the cameras, shared their view of the estate, but denied them any view of her.

Of course, the security guys knew all about her. She was the chauffeur’s daughter. When she was little, if they caught a glimpse of her on one of their monitors, she would run off with a little shriek and return a little while later wearing a funny hat, or a new outfit. As she got older, they saw less and less of her. Eventually she fell off their screens altogether. Perhaps she was a bit of a mystery, some sort of recluse. They didn’t think about her much anymore. She was harmless, and they had more important things to worry about.

Michael Cardano seemed to be an important man. He had once held some minor posts in the federal government. He had been a deputy to the Ambassador to the Philippines in the seventies, had later held an obscure office in the Pentagon, and then worked briefly for a well known conservative think-tank. Most recently, he was a consultant to the State Department on Southeast Asian economies. But he also seemed to have an influence and importance that could hardly be accounted for by a mere perusal of the various official titles he had held. His professional acquaintances assumed that he really worked for the CIA, or perhaps the NSA. That would at least account for the resources employed to secure an estate in the backwoods of Virginia that someone of his professional attainments could hardly be expected to be able to afford. But in the end, no one inquired too closely into Michael Cardano’s finances, or into his work. Emily never gave it much thought, and her father certainly never discussed it with her, or anyone else for that matter.

Emily slid into the front seat of the family car. Her father grunted and she snorted. They both laughed. Thursday was meditation day. Sensei had the whole dojo doing an “iron wire” breathing technique for most of an hour. It involved breathing in and out very deeply and slowly while doing a dynamic tension exercise. It was intended to encourage his students to regulate their breathing so that they could hear it, coming in and going out, and hear past it to the stillness of their qi. It was one of Emily’s favorite exercises in the dojo, since it focused on what for her had become the central truth of her life, the central insight of her passion for martial arts training. It drove the boys crazy. They desperately wanted to succeed, to see what Sensei was showing them. They flexed and tensed their muscles and they breathed as deeply as they could. Some of them sweated through their uniforms. But they just could not figure out what to listen for. And they heard nothing.

Her father knew, they had talked about it before. There was something comical about the boys’ predicament. Emily could feel for them, but the fact is that their failure was itself a simple human truth. One could wish them well, even lament their inability. But in the end, there was nothing to do about it but laugh.

“I have to go out of town tonight. I won’t be back until Saturday morning at the earliest,” her father said.

“Dad,” she groaned. “This was supposed to be our weekend.”

“I’m sorry, Chi-chan. It’s really out of my hands. Why don’t you go camping tomorrow without me? If I get back in time, I’ll try to find you. Then we’ll see how good you really are at covering your tracks.”

“You’ll never find me, old man!” she retorted.

“I already know you’re gonna climb out onto Promontory Rock and hide there. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you casing that spot. You can’t fool me!”

“Fine,” she said. “But if you don’t find me by Sunday morning, you’ll owe me big time!”



They rode home in silence the rest of the way. She was a little miffed with him for this change of plans. But there were plenty of pleasures for her out in the woods by herself. And he had been right about Promontory Rock. Damn!

By the time they arrived home it was already dark and Emily was hungry. Yuki, the cook, had something ready for her: hot soup with chicken and some flavored rice. Her father, it seems, had already eaten. He put the car away and retired to their apartment over the garage. Emily ate in the kitchen of the main house with Yuki. They talked about school, homework, boys, anything but the dojo. Yuki did not entirely approve of how much time she spent there. She wanted Emily to focus on school, to go to college, to find a profession. She had high hopes for this girl. She had practically been a mother to her for the last sixteen years, so maybe she had a right to stick her nose in to Emily’s life a little. But she also had no idea just how profoundly her experiences in the dojo had shaped Emily’s growing consciousness. To Yuki, martial arts was just a hobby, not something to take too seriously, certainly not something to build a life on, certainly not for a girl. No matter what that fool of a sensei thought.

Yuki had come to America years ago. Emily didn’t know the whole story. But there had been some sort of scandal involving Yuki’s father in Japan. He was a scientist, specializing in bio-engineering, genetics research. It must have been very cutting edge. There had been some sort of dispute about patent rights to a discovery he had been involved in. It was all hushed up in the end, but he was shamed by the episode and had taken his own life. Later, perhaps as an act of contrition, the company that had claimed the patent turned it over to the Japanese government. Though Yuki never spoke of it, Emily had the distinct impression from the little her father had told her of the matter that Yuki’s father had been falsely accused of industrial espionage.

Yuki was about the same age as Emily’s father, though it was hard to tell exactly how old she really was. She had enormous energy, much more even than could be expended in running the kitchen of a large and socially active household. She must have vast, secret hobbies, Emily sometimes mused. How else to account for all that energy, that vitality? Sometimes she teased her about it, needling her to find out what she really did with her spare time. But she could only push Yuki so far before she would turn a withering glare her way. Then it would vanish, and those familiar warm, dark eyes would reappear, smiling at her. Had there really been that much menace in her eyes? Or was it just a trick of the light? Emily was not really sure. Of course, she never doubted Yuki loved her, or that she was as close to a mother as she would ever have.

Emily did not know her real mother. She had never met her, never even seen a picture of her. According to her father, she was from Taiwan, the youngest daughter of a merchant family living in Taipei. She had been sent to school in Japan, where she met Emily’s father, who was in the navy and stationed there at the time. They were married and she returned with him to the states over the objections of her family. The marriage was apparently turbulent, and she left shortly after Emily was born, her father told her. He never heard from her or her family again. All she really knew about her mother was her name, Mei Li. Her father said that her own name was a sort of anagram for her mother’s name.

For all anyone outside of the family knew, however, she was just Emily Kane, daughter of George Kane, chauffeur to an important family. Of course, anyone who saw her could not help but take notice. Her long, straight black hair was unusual, though she mostly kept it tied up in some sort of braid. Her eyes were black as coal, and very hard to read. But what really caught one’s eye was her posture and her confident gait. And she might smile at you. Was it just you, or does she smile like that at everybody? This girl is the very picture of balance and control. Everyone is her equal, no one her superior. But was there something else in those smiling, dark eyes, something perhaps even darker? Perhaps it was nothing, a trick of the light.

Emily finished her soup, kissed Yuki good night, and went up to the apartment to finish her homework and go to bed. Yuki watched her walk across the compound to the garage and shook her head. “What’s going to become of that girl?” she wondered aloud.

Click for Ch. 3

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