(Previously, Sam Reynolds, PI, decide to accept an invitation to a three-day retreat to learn meditation. While there, he starts to have some misgivings about a co-student.)
Sam came out of his room and remembering the almost argument next door, looked to see if the people were still around. Scanning the hall, he could see all the doors to the dorm rooms were firmly closed.
Probably already there, shit. And first day too. Gritting his teeth, he yanked the loose drawstring to the tunic pants tighter. He then scooted promptly out of the building and over to meditation.
The last one in, he silently tugged off his sneakers and tiptoed over to a line in the back. The white cotton socks he had been given glided smoothly over the hard-wood floor. He sat down and assumed the cross-legged position as much as his stiff legs would allow.
“Let us all breath in and breath out,” he heard the leader saying in a still calm voice. He felt his shoulders start to relax.
Later that day they were finished, and it was time for dinner. This time he sat right next to Brother Huang who had, somehow, managed to sit some distance from Lydia and her friend.
“So, Sam, how did you like it today?” Huang asked Sam.
“I liked it. The hardest part is getting up and down and crossing my legs. Stiff, you know.”
Huang nodded knowingly. “We will do a few yoga movements too, while you are here, and that might help.”
“Gosh, I hope something does. I feel like the Tin Man.” He helped himself to more fish and rice.
“Try the green stuff,” Huang held out a dish to Sam. “It is a lot like your spinach.”
Sam was wary, but put a little on his plate anyway. He nibbled on a piece.
“It is just like spinach,” he said and put some more on his plate.
Huang was speaking to the different people sitting around them and Sam listened. People had a variety of jobs, several were teachers looking to ‘expand their horizons.’
One young Asian man sat across from Sam and didn’t say very much.
Sam wasn’t very good at telling the difference between the different Asian groups. So, trying to not be offensive, he asked: “So, are you Korean too?”
The young man made a slight grimace before replying, “No, I am Chinese. Chinese-American.”
“Ah,” Sam replied.
“I am actually fifth generation here in California.”
“Really.” Sam was interested.
“Yes, my great-great grandfather was what was known as a coolie and came from China to work on the Trans-Atlantic Railroad.”
“Wow, some history.”
“Yes, it has been a long road for my family, but worth it in the end, I guess. I was able to graduate from Stanford, so probably.”
Sam nodded. “And what do you do?”
There was a slight pause. At first, Sam thought the young man was going to refuse to answer. He detected a faint struggle on his face.
“Ah. . .I do research. Medical research.”
“Oh, interesting. Who. . .?”
“It’s Sam, isn’t it?” The young man broke in. “I am Chan, nice to meet you.” He stuck out his hand, American style.
“Oh, you too.” Sam countered.
“However, I am here on a short rest-vacation and would really like to leave all that behind. Just for a few days.” He gave Sam a faint smile.
Sam stared a moment then, looked down at his food. “Sure, sure, no problem. Think nothing of it. Are these peanuts?”
They all continued eating and Sam kept his thoughts to himself. What young man, that age,he mused, doesn’t like to talk about his work? Incessantly,in fact. Whatever. Not my business.
After dinner, Sam was back in his room and tried to read the magazine he brought but threw it down. Feeling restless, he pulled on a jacket and slipped into some shoes and went outside. Late spring, the air was still nippy.
God,I could use a cigarette right now.
He stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans to keep warm and started to stroll around the grounds. The grounds of Green Veil were lush with vegetation and beautiful even at night. The facility, Huang had told him, had been the property of a wealthy dowager who, having gotten into the meditation thing, donated the entire place to Brother Huang and his school.
Chewing on a toothpick, Sam worked his way around the campus. He was starting to get familiar with where things were. Having walked some of the kinks out, he started on the path back to his room.
Maybe a hot bath. He scratched his neck. That rough cotton must be irritating…
It was then he noticed something to his right, movement. Mice? Rats? No, it’s hopping like. Looks like. . .oh, it’s a bunny. Ha. Not too much to worry about there. Probably no foxes or racoons for miles.
He was turning back when something else caught his attention. He rubbed his eyes.
Was that rabbit glowing? A light green color? Couldn’t be.
He started to walk slowly after it and was about to catch it with two hands, when the thing darted into some undergrowth.
“Bah!” he said out loud. “Sam Reynolds, it’s really time for bed.”
The next morning, after washing up, Sam remembered the rabbit.
Was I seeing things? Was it really glowing or am I on some kind of new mediation enhanced high? What’s in that tea they serve?
Dismissing it from his mind, he went to breakfast and was able to get down on the floor a little more easily this time. He noticed, with a sense of aggravation, that husband-hunting Lydia and her silent companion, Sylvia, were both able to seamlessly glide up and down from the floor.
Geeze, Sam thought to himself, looks like all those hours in the gym are not really doing the trick. He felt discouraged.
He quickly got in with Brother Huang’s crowd for lunch although Lydia waved gayly at him from the other end of the table. He gave a little wave back and grabbed for food. The mysterious young Chinese man, Chan, was a few spots down. Head down, he continued a constant low conversation with his fellow Asian.
Older, thought Sam. Maybe in his 50’s, steel rim glasses, really bad haircut.
There was a dark, brooding intensity about the man Sam found unsettling. He could not help having his usual PI observations about people. The man kept stabbing at his food with his chopsticks.
Like he’s angry, Sam mused. Somehow, I get the feeling he’s not from around here.
Sam turned from the two men and tried to focus on what the people were talking about on his right. He had to fight that old prickly feeling coming from the hairs at the back of his neck.
Meditation class was easier the second day and Sam felt like he was getting into the groove of the thing. He was able to control his thoughts a little more and focus better. However, after a few minutes, he could not help thinking back to the young man Chan and his odd companion.
Something. . . something.
“Breath in and out, focus your attention. I will play a little music to help.” Brother Huang was leading today.
Sam liked hearing him. What a calming voice he had!
After lunch he went to have a little lie down before afternoon class began. Once again, he had dozed off when he heard the voices. They were murmuring again, but louder this time.
Always the nosy one, Sam got up quietly from the bed. Still in his thick cotton socks, he moved over to the side wall and put his ear against it.
“They need your help!” came the terse words. “They are dying, every day! They can’t afford the help like these rich American shits!”
“I know that, you think I don’t know that.” Sam recognized the voice of Chan. He realized the other voice had to be that of the older man who sat with him at meals.
“If I get caught, I’ll be ruined. I’ll get fired and never work in this town again.”
Chan sounded almost in tears.
There was a pause. “We won’t get caught. The plan is fool proof. No one will ever know.”
“But the lab is so careful, they monitor everything, constantly. What if they find out?” Chan pleaded.
“Listen to me, Chan, you can always come home. We need people like you. You know how much.”
“Yes, Lee, I do know. But, Lee, I am home. You have to realize that. I am home.”
Sam heard a sound like ‘Bah,’ and eased away from the wall. His mind whirled.
What the heck were these two up to? It didn’t sound good, whatever it was. Not good at all.
He could hear the bedroom door open and close next to him. Footsteps in the hall. Sleep impossible now, he pulled out the little I-Pad that Kristie had gotten him for Christmas. He looked up Chan, Ron, Stanford.
Bingo, found him! Got to love this Internet stuff, huh? Right there, ‘Ronald Chan, PH D., graduated summa cum laude, Stanford University. Biochemistry and genetics research. Currently working at Bio-Tech, Industries, San Francisco, CA. Articles by Dr. Chan include. . .’
Sam stopped reading. Biochemistry, genetics research. Glowing rabbits?
His head hurt. He popped in some more words into the Internet and read how scientists had learned to take the florescent glow DNA from jellyfish and transfer that DNA gene into small animals like rats and mice.
And rabbits? Sam thought warily to himself. What the Hell is going on here?
Getting up, he pulled the grey tunic over his T-shirt and pulled the drawstring tight on his pants. Pushing some shoes on his feet, he slipped into the hall and rapped on Chan’s door.
“Chan, you in there? It’s Sam. I heard you and it sounded like you. . . were sick or something.”
He was greeted with silence. He looked right and left. The hallway was empty.
Probably either still asleep in their rooms or had already left for mediation.
For a moment, he tamped his mustache. Then, cautiously, he tried the door handle. It was locked. Turning, he made his way to the end of the dorm corridor and out the exit to the grounds. Walking alongside the building, he found the window to his room, checked for his stuff and counted over one room. Chan’s room was behind a large bush. He peeked inside. No one there. The window was open a little.
Glancing around, he saw that the only people were yards away, busy getting to the next class. Sam got behind the bush and put both hands under the wooden window casing and pushed up. It made a creaking noise. Sam winced but felt sure no one was around to hear it.
Pushing the window more, he was able to stick a leg through and then pull his body in. He tried to ignore the twinges. Doing a quick reconnoiter, he confirmed he was the only one in the room. It was slightly larger than his, with room for two twin beds; although, still sparsely furnished and no bath. The beds were made, and he could see suitcases hurriedly shoved under the beds.
On tiptoe, he checked at the door, leaned his ear against the wood and heard nothing. He locked the top lock from the inside.
If one of them comes back, he smiled, they’d have to fumble with the key and lock. That will give me time to get out the window again.
He pulled the first case out from under the bed. It was a modern, hard-clam shell design. Kristie’s daughters both had this type. He popped it open and confirmed quickly this belonged to Ronald Chan. A California Driver’s license was in a leather wallet stuck under some clothes.
“Nothing much there we didn’t know,” he whispered.
On his knees, he inched over to the other bed and pulled out the second suitcase. It was old and worn with an old-fashioned boxy shape and travel stickers stuck to the outside.
“Geese, looks like one my grandma had.”
He had to jimmy the locks to get them open. There had been an attempt to lock them, but they were so old, it was easy to get them undone.
Sam rummaged through worn underwear and found what he was looking for. A dark red Chinese passport issued to one Dr. Yang Lee, Ph. D., Department of the Interior. The rest was in Chinese and Sam couldn’t read a word. He did see that the last port in China had been Beijing.
About one month before, so…
Sam heard voices coming down the hall. He jammed the passport back into the suitcase, carefully closed the lid and pushed the locks back in place. Shoving it back under the bed he scampered back to the window. His foot banged against something and he almost cursed. Looking down he saw an empty metal cage with a little food bowl with pellets and another bowl for water. It was empty but looked just big enough to hold a rabbit.
He slid through the window and then scraped along behind the bush to his window. Repeating the same action, he pushed the window up and climbed back into his room. He tiptoed over to the wall again and could hear curses from outside the next door.
“Why doesn’t this damn lock open?” Rattling.
“Let me try my key.” Shuffling sounds. “There, it was just stuck.” The door opened, then closed.
“No, I told you I have to have more time to think. Plus, there’s Fluffy. I need to get him back before we leave. We can’t just leave him here for someone to find.” Chan’s voice.
“I told you not to bring that animal. Now he’s evidence. If I get my hands on him, I’ll. . .”
“No, you won’t! He’s my rabbit. I’ll find him.”
“See that you do. Now at least one of us has to go to that damn class or we’ll be missed.”
“I’ll look for Fluffy.”
The door banged open then shut. Sam was still listening. He thought he heard soft crying. He decided to get to class if, for no other reason, then to see what Lee was up to.
Sam entered the big hall from the rear and sat in the very back row. He moved so he could keep his eye on Lee. Unfortunately, the man simply followed along with the group and did nothing unusual.
Sam tried hard to focus but found it impossible. His eyes kept popping open and searching the room for Chan. Lee stayed in place and Chan never showed. By the end of mediation, Sam felt more aggravated than ever.
Why didn’t that asshole, Lee, just do something already?
Exasperated, he got up and followed the group out. Most people sprinkled out on the grounds for an hour or so before dinner. Sam followed Lee back to the dorm and let himself into his own room. He sat silently on his bed listening. He could hear the creaking of bedsprings, but no more conversation.
Where was Chan?
Sam set the alarm on his phone and dozed off. Ninety minutes later the alarm rang off and his eyes opened. He lay still and listened. There were voices drifting in from the grounds, but the room next door was quiet. He waited a few moments, got up and listened at the wall. Nothing.
Washing his face, he combed his blond/white hair and scowled at his own reflection. Blue eyes looked back at him. He hated inaction and he was overwhelmed with a feeling of nameless dread. That something bad was about to happen or had already happened. Leaving his door, he paused again outside Chan’s room. It was silent. He knocked and there was no answer. A frisson of fear washed over him.
He scurried to the dining hall. Ignoring the waves and calls from Lydia, he planted himself heavily next to Huang. Straining his neck around, he looked to see if the kid was here. No Chan. Sam swallowed some bites of food. Washing it down with some tea, he leaned over to Huang.
“Can I talk to you, after dinner?”
Huang turned slightly toward Sam. A look of surprise was rapidly followed by one of concern.
When dinner was over, the usual contingent of people crowded around the master, but he was able to gracefully wave them away. He looked over at Sam.
“Needs to be in your office,” Sam told him.
Huang nodded and headed back to the main building. Settled in the sanctum-sanctorum, Sam closed the door. Huang raised an eyebrow but sat back in his chair.
Finally, “Yes?” was all Huang asked.
Sam hardly knew where to start. It was all so fantastic. Red Chinese, glowing bunnies, disappearing scientists. Was he crazy?
“It’s like this,” he started. Pretty soon it was all tumbling out before Sam even knew it. Huang nodded, his face serious.
“So, what now, Sam-Shi?”
Sam pause and took a deep breath. He thought.
“We need to find Chan. We need to find him now.”
Huang nodded. He picked up a little brass bell and rang it. His major-domo appeared and there was some rapid-fire conversation between the two. The language, which Sam now knew to be Korean, was a complete word salad to him. He understood nothing. The conversation stopped abruptly, and the Domo bowed, turned and left. Sam could hear him calling out to other staffers giving what sounded like commands.
“What now?” Sam asked.
“We wait.” Huang replied.
Sam shifted uncomfortably. Huang responded. “They will find him. If he is here.”
They sat in silence. Huang poured out some of the golden tea he always kept simmering in a side pot. Sam savored the taste and light flower aroma of the tea. A long twenty minutes passed. Suddenly, there was a commotion at the front door. It was the Domo, he was back, waving rapidly.
“Come, come!” he shouted.
Huang and Sam hurried out of the building and were herded over to the laundry facility. The door was open, the light on. Sam could see people inside the room, bending over something. He rushed inside to see Chan slumped against the wall, legs stuck straight out in front of him and bleeding from the forehead. He ran to the young man’s side, terrified he was dead.
“Chan, Chan.” The eyelids fluttered; a huge red shiner rising on his forehead.
“Oh, thank God,” Sam said holding Chan’s cold hand. “Can you hear me?”
Chan’s eyes fluttered open. “Sam,” the eyes closed. Someone had called 911 and Sam could hear an ambulance siren wailing in the distance. Soon, paramedics arrived and took over.
An hour later, Chan was on his bed with a bandage around his head. He had been cleaned up and given a pain killer.
“He’ll have a slight concussion,” the medic told Sam, “but he’ll be okay. Don’t let him drive.”
Sam and Huang both nodded and waved goodbye as the ambulance left.
They were now both in Chan’s room sitting on chairs next to him. He was coming around. Sam could see that Fluffy was back in his cage and that Lee’s suitcase was gone.
“Tell us what happened, my son,” Huang prodded gently.
Chan started to cry. “I’m going to get fired. I’ll never work in this state again. I’m going to jail.” He leaned forward and held his head in his hands.
Huang looked at Sam and back at Chan. “Breathe, my son, breathe. In and out. In and out.”
Chan finally started to slow his breathing and calm down a little. He opened his mouth several times but nothing came out.
“One step at a time, Chan. One step.” Sam said slowly.
There was a little gasp. “He took my card.” Chan pointed to the lump on his head.
“Your card?” Sam raised his eyebrows.
“My, my ID card for Bio-tech. He’s got my card to get into the lab.”
“Okay, okay.” Sam tried to stay calm himself. “That’s not a problem is it? Certainly, there are other levels of security there?”
Chan started to cry again and began rocking back and forth.
“You don’t understand. You don’t understand.” He sobbed incoherently.
Huang put a hand on his arm. “Tell us Chan, so we will understand.”
Chan sucked in a big breath. “He got my finger prints.”
“Your fingerprints,” Sam asked, “how?”
Chan’s eyes got wide. “He had these soft plastic gloves.” He stuck out his hand to demonstrate. “You put your hand in the glove and press down. It molds to your fingertips and leaves an impression of the prints.” He pointed to his own fingertips. “When it dries and hardens, it’s a permanent glove with a set of your prints.”
Sam and Huang looked at each other blankly.
“Don’t you understand?” Chan’s voice started to rise. “He can get past the second layer of security and into the lab with my prints.”
There was a long pause. “What does he want?” Sam asked.
“The embryo,” Chan answered simply. “He wants the embryo.”
Sam felt fear wash over him. “We got to go,” he told both men. “Get him up, Huang!” he ran for his room to get his phone and car keys. He hustled the two men out and into his truck, starting the engine and hitting the speed dial for the FBI.