CHAPTER FOUR FAITH
Jazz bolted upright atop a stiff, narrow bed. As her vision cleared, she saw a sterile room, painted a putrid green color, and a window perched high on one wall. She climbed out of bed, but a sharp pain shot across her forehead and she abruptly dropped back down with a groan.
After a while, she tried to stand again, slowly this time. Holding onto the wall for support, she walked to the door, and found it locked. Jazz put her ear to it while banging and yelling. She leaned against the door waiting, but there was no response. A shiny stainless steel toilet and sink took up the corner on the opposite wall. Her lips were dry, her mouth tacky, so she staggered to the sink for a drink of water and a cold rag to put on her head.
Jazz lay on her back, draping the rag over her forehead, and retraced the day. The last thing she remembered was getting into the Hummer. Her illusive thoughts wandered aimlessly in every direction, hindered by a deep ache that moved from temple to temple. After the pain calmed, she remembered seeing Aidan and Jason fall to the ground.
She must have fainted when someone held a thick cloth that smelled like nail polish remover over her mouth and nose. That toxic smell still lingered in her nostrils. The rest was a blank. She had no idea where she was. This probably isn’t the military base near Colorado Springs. Her eyes filled with tears. She wanted to go back to her quiet little house and her quiet little town.
The tilt of the sun and increasing light coming in the window indicated it was dawn. That meant it had been a whole day since she left Aidan’s house. She went to the toilet and climbed onto the seat. From the window, the only thing visible was the colorful morning sky. What happened yesterday?
Her mind began weaving scenarios involving assassins. As she stepped off the toilet seat her breath came in sucking spasms, not providing enough air to satisfy her need. On trembling legs she went back to the bed. Head lowered, sitting on the edge, she gasped for breath, trying to relax. It’ll be fine; it’s useless to worry, she told herself, rocking back and forth.
A shuffling sound and turn of the doorknob startled her. Jazz sat upright, scooted backward, and pressed her back firmly against the wall, folding her knees to her chest. An Asian man with a round face and black hair cut close to his scalp, peeked around the door before entering. He was short, heavyset, and solid.
“Jazz,” he called, with a wide grin, displaying large teeth that took up much of his face and overshadowed his beady eyes and small nose. He reminded Jazz of the Cheshire cat in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“Who are you?” Jazz screeched, still fighting for air, her lungs rebelling.
He stepped back. “I’m Jian. Don’t you remember me?”
“I have no idea who you are,” she spat.
“We met in Spokane.”
“You sure?” Jazz replied weakly.
Jian lowered his wide hips onto a metal chair beside the bed. His clothes were fashionable and a gold Rolex sparkled on his wrist.
“Where am I?”
“I’ll explain, but let’s go eat first. You must be hungry.”
“Yes, I am.” She was ravenous and decided her best tactic for now was to cooperate. At least she’d get out of the locked room.
Jian helped her stand and holding her arm to steady her, guided Jazz into the empty hall. The building was modern and clean, with little clutter or decoration. When they rounded a corner, she became immersed in a hustling crowd. Everyone looked Asian and wore white or blue linen shirts with matching pants. They entered a busy cafeteria. Jian left her at a table where she waited, her hands shaking. People chatted in a foreign language while eating and hiding glances in her direction.
Jason had inferred her espionage work had something to do with assassins. Jian must be the enemy, maybe an assassin. Jazz stifled an impulse to run. First, she’d figure out where she was, then where to go; perhaps an American embassy.
Jian returned with fish, rice, and vegetables. Jazz ate while studying her surroundings. A man came into the cafeteria with a stethoscope around his neck. This must be a hospital or clinic.
After they finished eating, Jian led her down a sandy path coiling through gardens. They passed a pond full of lily pads below a waterfall surrounded by rhododendrons, and palms. Jian sat on a wooden bench, motioning Jazz to join him. She sat next to him and inhaled the warm, humid air. In the distance stood lush green hills that were steep and narrow, like cones atop flat farmland.
“Now tell me where I am.”
“Sichuan Province. I would like you to stay with my wife and I. You’ll be more comfortable there.”
“Why am I here?”
“We’ll leave in a few minutes and have plenty of time to talk.”
Jazz hoped wherever they were going was less secure. “I’ll go with you if you promise to answer my questions and not keep me locked up,” she replied, testing his position.
“That’s not a problem. I’m not the enemy. In time you’ll come to understand that.”
Jazz wished she hadn’t shown her trepidation, but she had no memory of this man. Jian wasn’t as tall as she was, but he was stout and could overpower her. They sat in silence on the bench, Jazz stealing glimpses in his direction while he gazed toward the hills. She couldn’t see a weapon, but he might have something strapped to his ankle or hidden somewhere. If this is a bad dream, I’m ready to wake up.
Soon, Jian stood and led Jazz to his car. He sped along the highway in his blue Toyota sedan, winding up a barren mountain. Near the crest, they came to a town that looked like a war zone and passed the remains of a structure being demolished. A raven, his feathers tattered, sat perched on the broken bricks of one wall.
“What happened here?”
“That was a school that fell in the 2008 earthquake.” Jian paused. “Many children died. We honor them each year,” tears wet his eyes and he sighed as if that wasn’t enough.
Throughout the village lay remnants of buildings, signs of landslides, and haphazardly rebuilt homes. Residents moved about apparently accustomed to the disarray. Jian explained that the landslides had damned water, creating many new lakes and flooding farmland. “The earthquake caused big problems for people in the province.”
Beyond the town, the scenery opened to farmland in rectangular shades of green, stretching for miles in the fertile valley below. They descended into increasing activity: people on bicycles balancing children piled on the back, black-haired men riding motorcycles with passengers in their sidecars, people walking, and thick traffic.
A vast city emerged on the horizon, skyscrapers clustered at the center. Entering the city, Jian drove adjacent to a muddy river past a complex of narrow, multi-story apartment buildings next to a park full of statues of lions and Buddha.
“You told me the name of this province, but what country?”
“Oh, sorry, I thought you knew. China.”
Aghast at how far she had traveled, a sinking sense of aloneness engulfed Jazz. “Why did you bring me here?”
“We need your help.”
“To find a man.”
“Why didn’t you ask me instead of kidnapping me?”
“I’m sorry about how we brought you here, but you had no memory of your promise.”
“You agreed to help us find him.”
“Where is Aidan? What did you do to him?”
“Aidan is fine. We left him with the CIA.”
Jazz couldn’t will herself to remember what lay trapped inside her mind. That made her a victim, herself the perpetrator, incapable of deciphering whom she should trust. But, she couldn’t trust someone who kidnapped her.
When Jian slowed to turn onto a narrow street, she reached for the door handle and almost jumped out of the car, but didn’t. People leaned from terraces above shops lining the roadway, calling to friends on the street. Jian maneuvered around the masses that were stopping to view wares in a busy open-air market. Vendor booths, brimming with myriad items, bordered the street.
Most of the buildings were red with black trim and sweeping roofs. Strips of patterned textiles covered with painted calligraphy hung on a rope draped across the front of one building. Under the paintings sat a wiry elderly woman with a peaked straw hat. An assortment of Mao souvenirs, jewelry, and miniature Buddha statues were placed in neat rows on a blanket in front of her.
They drove past two weathered old men playing chess atop a wooden barrel. Near the men was a narrow alley, where Jazz imagined an escape route, but she couldn’t muster the courage to pursue that action. On the other side of the alley, a middle-aged woman displayed rice and coconuts in opened sacks while chatting with her customers. Farther down the avenue, children waited for food being prepared behind a steam-filled counter. The smell of raw fish and garlic filled the air. Instead of being interesting, had she been traveling, everything seemed foreign and threatening.
The road became less congested as they entered a residential neighborhood. Jian pulled up to a wrought iron gate. He climbed out of the car to open the gate, then drove between concrete walls partly hidden behind ginkgo trees and flower gardens that bordered the driveway on both sides. Jian stopped in front of a covered entrance beyond another iron gate and walked around to open the car door for Jazz.
The gate creaked with age as they stepped into the portico. A gaunt, deeply wrinkled woman stood on the porch. Moving aside, she motioned Jazz to enter. She curtly pointed at Jazz’s shoes, while handing her a pair of slippers. Jazz took off her sandals, set them against the wall, and put on the slippers.
Jian spoke to the woman in Mandarin and urged Jazz to go with her. The elderly lady shuffled across the bamboo floor in open-backed slippers, her back bent forward. With great effort, she pulled herself up a winding spiral staircase, holding onto the black wrought iron railing. Jazz followed her up the stairs to a bedroom with an attached bath. The gruff woman pointed toward the bathroom as she scrutinized Jazz with a disapproving frown.
When she left, Jazz closed the door and locked it. A double bed and wooden table were the only furniture. Thick texture covered the crimson walls. Jazz pushed open the window, letting in a tide of damp heat. Branches and leaves of a bushy tree blocked her view.
The vanity mirror reflected Jazz’s disheveled image, her hair in knots. Streaks from tears left clean lines along her cheeks. Jazz tore off her dirty jeans and T-shirt and went to the tiled shower. She stayed under the warm flow of water for a long time, resolving to remain calm and in control.
Jazz washed then dried with the thin towel, grabbed the delicate, pale pink silk robe that lay folded on the end table, and slipped it over her head. The smooth silk draped softly against her skin. She detangled her hair, stepped into the slippers, and crept down the stairs.
Jian greeted her at the entry, led her to a patio at the rear of the home, and offered her a chair. The sun was setting behind lofty mountains in the distance. The elderly woman appeared carrying a white porcelain teapot with tiny blue flowers painted on the side. She poured wu long tea into small cups with no handles. Next, she returned with a tray of assorted sushi rolls, pork strips, mangoes and spiced vegetables.
“My wife is eager to meet you, after you’ve had time to ask questions,” Jian said as he filled her plate.
Jazz didn’t know where to begin. “Why do you want my help?”
“Because of your talents you have many people interested in you.”
“You are interested in me?”
“You might say I’m associated with people interested in you.”
“Who are they?”
“One is a man who learned of your abilities and sent me to find you. I want to take you to see him tomorrow.”
“You brought me here against my will. You kidnapped me! Why should I trust you or any of your associates?” she blurted, unable to control her anger any longer.
“I understand your anger; you’ve been very patient. Drink your tea; it’s soothing.”
Jazz gazed warily into her cup and decided not to.
Jian lifted his hand to his mouth, hiding his chuckle. “I’m not trying to poison you.”
“Yeah. How did you get me to China?” she asked, irritated that he found this funny.
Jian sobered. “We had to sedate you to get you away from the CIA.”
Jazz studied Jian. He laughed easily and seemed to care about people. She hated to admit it, but the man appeared jovial and kind, not her image of an angry, aggressive, dark assassin.
“Tell me about this group you’re in.”
“I can tell you that we help people in need. We oppose some of the actions of our government.”
“What do you do exactly?”
“My role is to help find those who have gone missing.”
“How did you learn English?”
“I lived in New York for three years and received my masters degree in political science at Columbia. I met my wife there. She is Chinese. Liu attended Juilliard and now teaches at a local university. The first time I saw her I knew she was the one. We dated for two years. After we returned to China, we married. We were allowed to have one child. Our son has bestowed upon us a granddaughter.”
It eased Jazz’s fear when she noted the gleam in Jian’s eyes as he spoke of his family. She finished the meal and a wave of exhaustion hit her. Jazz asked if she could meet his wife in the morning and continue the discussion later. Jian agreed and escorted Jazz to the stairway.
Back in her room, she crawled onto the soft feather bed. It smelled of molted skin, musty and used. Eventually, her racing thoughts spun into dreams, like tumbleweeds drifting across a desert mirage.
In the morning, Jazz woke feeling rested. She showered, pulled on the robe, and headed downstairs. On tiptoes, she ambled past a room full of cushions arranged in a circle on the floor. Through a glass door, she saw Jian on the patio. Beside him sat a woman. Jian stood when Jazz entered the veranda.
“How did you sleep?”
“This is my wife, Tian Liu.” Jian introduced her with obvious adoration.
Liu rose and extended her manicured hand. “I am honored to meet you.”
Jazz shook her hand guardedly.
“I imagine things have been rather difficult for you lately,” Liu added with a kind smile taking her seat.
The early morning light hit Liu’s smooth face, showing a few subtle lines around her eyes. She looked younger than Jian, was slender, wore her hair in a soft bun, and carried herself with an air of grace. Liu had attended Juilliard, which impressed Jazz tremendously and explained her perfect English.
The old woman brought trays of food. Jazz dined on spareribs with pickled vegetables, steamed rice, and grilled bamboo shoots. Intent on her meal, she finally looked up to see Liu and Jian smiling at her.
“Sorry. I was hungry.”
Jian pushed his chair away from the table. “So, if you agree, we’ll go to the monastery to visit my friend.”
“I can ask him questions?”
“Yes, we encourage questions. That might help you remember.”
Jazz excused herself, returned to the guest room, and found clothing laid out for her--a long skirt and a short-sleeved, flowered shirt. I’ll gain information. Cooperate, get answers, be patient, and trust my intuition. I need guidance now. She offered up a prayer.
That afternoon, Jian parked his car, then led Jazz over stone slabs to the monastery entrance set in the middle of a red one-story building with an upswept roof. They passed visitors reading billboards and went through a gate, entering a hall filled with statues.
“These are the statues of the three saints that symbolize mercy, wisdom and aspiration,” Jian explained.
Jazz studied the intricate bronze statues while following him from the chamber into an expansive courtyard. Dense crowds moved in and out of the numerous halls surrounding the courtyard. Jazz spied a couple that looked American. She glanced at Jian. I could ask them to take me to the American embassy. To distract him, she asked, “What is that building?” pointing to a multilevel tower with sweeping roofs and latticed walls.
“That is the Pavilion of Six. In Buddhism the number six symbolizes the six senses, six metaphors, six thoughts, six gunas or qualities, and six characteristics.”
The two people were walking away, becoming lost in the multitude. Jazz decided it was too risky. She didn’t know what Jian would do if she ran. She didn’t know if they were Americans or spoke English.
He guided her through gardens full of copper and jade Buddha statues to a busy outdoor teahouse surrounded by orchids and lilies. Jian pulled out a chair, motioning her to sit. A young girl approached with a pot and poured jasmine tea into cups. Jazz drew in the rich scent of incense and luscious orchids.
Off to her right, on the other side of an arching bridge lined with elephant statues, stood another ornate pavilion. A tall, lanky, bald man in a golden-brown monk’s robe with wrapped leggings approached from the bridge.
He greeted Jazz. “I am Li Hsu.”
“I’m Jazz Elliot.”
Hsu smiled, taking a seat. He sipped the tea leisurely. At length he said, “I must apologize for the way we brought you to our country.”
Jazz sensed Hsu commanded respect that few people do. “I need to understand what is happening,” she asserted, somewhat intimidated by his air of total confidence.
“A short time ago,” Hsu began, “we heard of a young lady who had great powers to travel distances in the spiritual realm and gain information. Jian went to America to ask for your help. You agreed to find a man, but we lost contact with you. We heard rumors you were given a drug developed in Russia that blocks memory. The dosage determines the amount of time lost. Apparently that is true.”
“Do you know who gave me the drug?”
“No. Maybe someone wanted to stop you from helping us.”
“Who would be opposed to me helping you?”
“Perhaps the powerful people that strive to gain control over our country. We call them the Elite as they have immense financial backing. They encourage limiting our population and create internal tension to distract China from becoming a military superpower. The Elite fear our growing military and financial strength. They may worry that you will discover their secrets.” Hsu paused. “You are in danger whether in your country or China.”
“What kind of danger?” With trembling hands, she returned her cup to the table. She gazed at the surrounding people. Her faceless enemy might be Asian, Caucasian, man, woman, or the men sitting by her.
“The government agents who arrest people in China do not want interference. The Elite silences anyone getting in their way,” Hsu explained.
“So the Elite gave me the drug?”
“Perhaps, or Chinese agents, or the CIA.”
“Since you say I’m in danger, how can you keep me safe?”
“I recommend you stay here, disguised as a monk. Which means shaving your head and wearing a kesa.” Hsu smiled, plucking his monk robe.
Jazz was stunned, imagining being bald, and caught herself wondering what Aidan would think, if she ever saw him again. I would cut off my hair to be safe, she decided. “What will you have me do?”
“We need you to find someone. First, I will help you regain your memory by using ancient techniques. But you must want to remember,” Hsu said. “Do you?”
It felt strange having no recollection of the events, she heard Jian, Aidan, and now Hsu speak of as if a piece of her was missing. “Yes, I have to.” My life might depend on it.
“Why do you need me, Hsu? Doesn’t China have remote viewers?”
“Yes, but they have ties to our government. Also, you are very good at it.”
“What if I don’t agree to help?” Jazz had to know if Hsu planned to force her to do what he wanted.
“We will return you to your home,” he offered earnestly.
Whether he meant it or not, she felt better knowing she might have a choice. Hsu seemed genuine. His eyes held a kindness unlike anything she’d ever seen. She’d follow her intuition and try to trust Hsu. He might evoke her memory.
Jian glanced at Hsu, cocking his head toward an armed police officer standing across the courtyard staring at them.
“Let us retire to the private part of the monastery,” Hsu instructed, rising to his 6-foot-3-inch height.
Jazz caught the exchange and pushed back her chair. Jian and Hsu surrounded her and escorted her in the opposite direction.