Sam Reynolds, self-employed Private Investigator, is feeling low and needs to get away for a little while. Rest, relax and renew. He accepts an invitation from his buddy Brother Huang to attend the Buddist retreat for a few days. Something different, Sam tells himself, a place to meditate and contemplate his life. As always, action has a way of finding Sam.

Later that week:

Sam was busy unpacking his small duffel bag in his tiny dorm room. He had checked into the monastery, confirmed the payment, and was greeted effusively by Brother Huang and staff.“Sam shi! So, good to have you back!” Brother made a low bow and then put his hand out for an American shake.

Sam extended his hand and the brother pulled him into a hug and clapped his back.

“Nice to be back, Brother Huang.” Sam was not still convinced this was a completely sane idea.

“Yes, yes. You unpack your things and we have lunch, yes?”

Sam, at 66 years, was still fit and worked as a self-employed PI. He had met Brother Huang a few months previously when Sam tracked a missing woman to the Green Veil. He had gotten help from Brother Huang then and a loose invitation to come back and learn meditation.

Sam had nodded and was led to his room by the silent major-domo of Huang. A tall, skinny young man; he waved Sam into the dorm room and promptly left.

At first Sam felt like the young man was being rude. Then, as he unpacked his bag he thought to himself, He is neither friendly nor unfriendly. He’s just neutral. That’s different. Well, time for lunch.

Sam was a little uncomfortable having to sit down on the floor to eat. However, one of the servers made sure he had a big pillow to sit upon, so it wasn’t too bad.

Getting up will be a chore, he grimaced, thinking about the arthritis in his hips.

However, soon he was chatting with Father Huang and other guests around the long low table. The servers ran back and forth with big aluminum trays covered with an array of various dishes.

The table was soon covered and one girl, particularly brought him a fork wrapped in a napkin. He thanked her. He realized at that point, the other people at the table were all eating with chopsticks.

Oh well, one step at a time, maybe tomorrow.

His senses were assaulted by the variety of dishes all in little separate bowls. Many of the items he did not recognize. He started with fish and rice, two things he knew. He began to eat. Hum, surprisingly good! He wolfed down some more of what looked like trout and started to gingerly pick at a couple of other things.

There was an assortment of guests at the table. A couple of middle-aged female school teachers were to one side. They babbled incessantly at Huang about the benefits of meditation and how it had improved their lives. On another side, were a couple of millennials on short holiday from the IT tech business. They mostly talked and laughed with each other about people and events only they knew. There was an assortment of other types scattered down the row. The staffers were also there having lunch and practicing their English with the Americans. They would frequently lapse back into their native tongue. Sam, not a language expert, didn’t know what language they spoke.

“So, are you new here?” the little woman to his left peered up at him with enormous blue eyes and a huge smile. He was momentarily distracted by the quantity of silver jewelry that occupied every spot on her neck, ears and fingers. It tinkled lightly when she moved, and the various stones winked at him.

“Ah. . .” he mentally shook himself. “Yes, first time, very first time.”

“Oh, you’ll love it!” She gushed at him. “We just love it. Don’t we, Silvia?” she turned to her companion. Silvia was a beaten down looking woman who was as plain, in her fashion, as her friend was adorned.

Silvia nodded dumbly and kept eating.

“I’m Lydia. Lydia Glass. And you are. . . “She extended a tiny hand.

Sam managed to put down his fork a moment to shake her hand.

“Sam, Sam Reynolds, ma’am.” He grabbed his fork up.

“Oh, Silvia, he called me ma’am! Isn’t that just adorable?” Lydia gushed some more. Her friend nodded slightly.

Lydia turned back to Sam. “So, what are you in for?” She smiled at him broadly.

“In for. . .?” Sam stared a moment. “Oh, you mean, why am I here?” he tamped down his mustache.

“Drugs, alcohol, broken heart. . .?” The little lady waved a hand expansively around the room. Sam noticed her thick, hot pink fingernails.

Acrylic? He thought. Aw, Kristie would know.

Lydia turned back to Sam and batted some extremely long eyelashes at him. “We came for weight loss, didn’t we, Sylvie?” Sylvia kept eating.

“You. . .?” she was dazzling Sam with some very white teeth.

“Ah. . . smoking.” He managed to get out. “Stopped smoking on my own, but still keep having cravings and I don’t want to go back to it.”

“Ah, smoking! The Devil’s own handmaiden. I know, I know.” Lydia inched closer to Sam. “I never smoked, of course. My dead husband would have never stood for it. But, I understand from all my friends who are ex-smokers that it is the very worst thing to quit!”

Sam was starting to choke up over the intense smell of Lydia’s perfume. It had a musty, cloying aroma he didn’t like. He looked up to see Brother Huang watching him with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Sam-shi, are you about finished? Would you like a tour?”

Sam stuffed a last mouthful of rice in and nodded. He began the laborious process of uncoiling from under the table and then standing up. At 5’11”, Sam wasn’t the tallest American going, but he was having a devil of a time trying to figure out where to place his long legs.

At length, he got up and felt twinges in his back.

Lydia began to protest that they were almost done and could come too.

Huang put out a stopping hand, “No need, no need ladies. Take your time, please. They will be serving coffee very soon and you can tell some of our newer members about the benefits of your mediation practice.” He bowed low and placed a hand under Sam’s elbow and steering him out of the dining room.

Outside, Sam had to stop to take a couple of deep breaths.

“Oh, my. That perfume she was wearing. Let me breath.”

Brother Huang laughed lightly. “Ah, the lady Lydia. She is a widow and is what I think you American’s call ‘husband hunting.’ “

“Wow, I guess so,” was Sam’s reply. “What a get up. Why not take a cruise? I hear that’s a great way to meet new people.”

Huang looked over his shoulder and continued walking. “Between the two of us, that is her very next stop.”

“Does she really do the meditation thing?”

“Oh, yes she does. I think mostly it is to calm anxiety and get rid of wrinkles.” Huang laughed. Sam was breathing again and had to chuckle.

“Well, I don’t know about wrinkles. But, it is true about the smoking thing. I have been craving cigarettes again and it was so hard to stop the first time.”

His companion nodded. “Understood, understood. I have heard such a thing many times from other. Come, we will get you some proper clothes for mediation and we will begin in the big hall at 1pm.”

Huang led Sam into a little laundry/clothing facility and the girl started to measure Sam for the tunic/pants combo he would be wearing.

“You are very tall, Sam-shi but I think Yumi will be able to find you something. I will see you at 1:00.”

“Yes, you will and Brother Huang,” Sam was sincere, “thanks for rescuing me back there.”

Huang smiled and disappeared out the door.

Sam got his clothes and went back to his dorm room for a wash-up and a little lie down before the class started.

He lay down on his bed, which was mercifully not on the floor, and texted Kristie.

“I here, the weather is great. XOXO.”

“Oh, good, sweetie. Thanks so much for understanding about the kid thing.” She texted back.

“No problem, have a good time.”

She texted back a row of kissy faces. He turned off the phone and closed his eyes.

He dozed for a few minutes when he became aware of the sound of voices. The voices were fairly close. Male? The sound was muffled. It didn’t sound like an argument exactly, but on the edge of a disagreement of some kind.

“Jesus. Can’t you leave that stuff behind for just three days,’ he mumbled and turned over.

His alarm on the phone went up and he sat up. Damn, the class starts in five minutes. Got to hustle.

He came out of his room and remembering the conversation, looked to see if the people were still around. The doors to all the rooms were closed. Probably already there, shit. And first day too.

Adjusting the loosely fitting tunic and draw-string pants, he scooted out of the building and over to mediation. He was the last one in, took off his shoes 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 good 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.