CHAPTER EIGHT SANCTUARY
Outside the dining hall, the monks, talking in groups, dispersed. They looked like Jazz felt, forlorn and lost. Hsu was their master, always available to offer wise guidance. Jazz realized how much she’d been relying on him. “Let’s go to my room,” she suggested to Yan.
They proceeded across the cobbled path through the courtyard and atrium, watching for police. On the bed, they sat together in stunned silence, struggling to make sense of what happened.
Jazz finally spoke, “Have you ever seen anyone else taken for questioning?”
Jazz studied Yan. Hsu had raised her. He was the only family she knew. Yan’s eyes were red and moist. Her mouth held a grim frown. Jazz took her hand. “We’ll find him, Yan, don’t worry.”
“Okay.” She shivered.
Jazz hoped Hsu’s arrest had nothing to do with her. She ran through possible scenarios, trying not to exaggerate her limited information. Minsheng had been in prison a long time. “We could wait until they bring Hsu back, but I’m not sure that’s the best idea,” she deliberated. Yan waited patiently as if Jazz would figure out what to do. “Have you met Jian?”
“Yes, he visit Hsu.”
“Do you have his phone number?”
“No. We go Hsu room to get number.”
“Good thinking, Yan.”
Taking action stopped Jazz’s mental spiral. In Hsu’s quarters, Yan went through his desk, lifted a stack of letters, perused them, but found nothing from Jian. There was no place else to look, so they returned to Jazz’s chamber. They were sitting on the bed, lost in their own thoughts, when a knock on the door startled them.
“Should I open it?” Jazz mouthed to Yan.
Yan shrugged. Jazz led the way hesitantly with Yan behind her. She slowly cracked open the door to reveal a short monk in an orange robe. He stood on his toes to peek around her. Jazz lowered her shoulders and signaled Yan to speak to him.
“Chung ask we need anything,” Yan relayed as he entered.
“See if he knows where the police took Hsu.”
Yan and the monk conversed. “No one know where he is.”
“Can he contact Jian?”
He spoke, waving his hands while glancing apprehensively toward Jazz. Yan explained that Chung had been to his home a long time ago, but could not find it again.
“Have him try to find a phone number or address for Jian.”
“He do this,” Yan affirmed as Chung bowed and left the room.
“Let’s search our things for anything that could incriminate us in case the police come back, like your wig, papers, and the letters from your mother. Is there a place to hide them?”
“Yes. Come, I show you.”
Yan led Jazz into the courtyard and past the gardens. After traveling along a dirt path, they came to a tall gingko tree behind a gazebo. Yan went onto her knees and swished away leaves to uncover a hidden hatch buried beside the tree. She lifted the heavy panel and set it on the thick mulch. They peered into the pit. Jazz could barely make out a ladder descending into obscurity. “We need candles or a flashlight; it’s dark in there. And let’s get our stuff.”
Yan nodded, replacing the steel hatch. They walked back to Jazz’s quarters. Jazz grabbed candles and matches, then folded the clothes Jian had given her plus her jeans and T-shirt. Yan’s bedroom was next door. Inside, Yan gathered her wig, letters, papers, I-Ching coins, and photos, placing them in a large colorful woven purse. She added Jazz’s things and draped the strap across her shoulder.
“Do you have a flashlight?”
“I get one.”
The women found a flashlight in a drawer in the kitchen. They walked past monks carrying on their normal activities, but Jazz could sense the tension hanging over the monastery. Back at the hatch, they uncovered the hole. Jazz turned on the light, directing it through dense spider webs. She grabbed a broken branch from under the gingko tree, and reluctantly descended, pushing webs out of the way with the stick. Yan climbed down, carefully positioning her feet on the rungs to avoid stepping on Jazz’s fingers.
At the foot of the ladder, they stood close, holding on to each other while Jazz shone the light in a circle. The smell of damp earth rose from the dark mud ground and red clay walls. A nebulous channel led out of the landing. Jazz shuddered as she moved into the narrow passageway with Yan close, clutching her arm.
“Have you been here before?” Jazz took each step warily in the dark.
“Yes. Hsu show me to hide.”
They continued along the hallway, the top of their heads almost scraping the low ceiling. Jazz swished webs away with the back of her hand. As her fingers moved over an orbicular web, she brushed against something thick, moist, and prickly.
“Son of a bitch!” she screeched, jumping backwards and nearly toppling Yan while vigorously shaking her hand. Aiming the flashlight, she studied the web. Jazz swore she saw all eight of the spider’s eyes go wide as the light caught him standing guard near the center. “Oh my god,” Jazz moaned, distancing herself from the hairy creature.
Yan took the wig out of her purse. She stuck her hand inside, and reaching around Jazz, pulled the spider from the web, wrapped the wig tightly around him, and placed the bundle behind them.
“Wow, Yan, thanks.” Jazz reluctantly grabbed the corners of the web with the tips of her fingers, unhinged it, and let it drape against the wall.
“That spider no hurt you,” Yan commented.
Now, Jazz inspected the webs before she swept them away with the stick. Snakes, bees, slugs didn’t bother her, but she hated spiders. Creepy images from the “Arachnophobia” movie lay trapped in her mind, refusing to go away. Her fear lingered in her subconscious, the part of the brain unable to decipher what is real, whether on TV or right in front of you.
The passage meandered a short distance before opening into a rounded cavern. The solid earthen ceiling held a screen-covered vent. A thick mat covered the floor. Hundreds of books on shelves lined the walls. A heavy red and black wooden desk with calligraphy carved into the front backed up to a wall of shelves.
Yan went over, reached into her bag to retrieve matches, and lit the lantern that sat on top of it. She opened a drawer. Inside were maps and a compass. Yan spread the maps on the floor. Jazz sank to her knees beside Yan and they studied them. One map showed an entrance to tunnels traversing several miles, but no doorway was visible.
“Yan, this is where we are.” Jazz pointed.
“There’s a hidden entrance to tunnels. Did Hsu tell you about that?”
“Yes, yes. I try remember. He say book key to open door. Long time ago Hsu show me this place.”
“You take the book off the shelf to open it?”
“Yes. That what Hsu say.”
Jazz began systematically removing and replacing books. Yan joined in the search.
“Do you remember the title?” Jazz asked to stir Yan’s memory while replacing yet another antiquated volume with tattered edges.
“No, rabbit go down hole, girl follow.”
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Jazz exclaimed. “That’s an appropriate story to get us into a burrow.” Jazz hoped it was an English edition she’d recognize.
After searching with no result, they left their things to return for the evening meal. The short curved tunnel was now clear of webs. Jazz pressed her back to the wall and scooted around the wig lying on the ground, hoping that the spider was still trapped inside. “Not a fan of big, hairy spiders,” she admitted.
They ascended from the damp cavern into welcoming torrid, humid air. Yan returned the hatch to its rightful place and hid it under leaves. When they reached the garden, Chung rushed over to them.
Yan turned to Jazz. “He has number for Jian and a phone you can borrow.”
“Great. Ask him if there’s any news.”
“No news,” Yan conveyed.
Chung reached for Jazz’s hand, placing a cell in it and a piece of paper with Jian’s number.
“Dinner will have to wait,” Jazz told Yan. They hurried to Jazz’s room to make the call.
Sitting on her bed, Jazz unfolded the paper and pressed the numbers into the cell. A woman answered. “Is this Liu?”
“This is Jazz. Is Jian there? Police took Hsu.”
“We just found out. Let me get Jian for you. One moment, please.”
Jazz could hear Liu speak to Jian and then he came to the phone. “I’m so relieved you called. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, a little shaken. Why did the police take Hsu?”
“Let’s talk tomorrow. I’ll arrive in the morning.”
Jazz gathered from his tone he didn’t want to discuss this on the cell. She looked at Yan as she ended the call. “He’ll be here tomorrow.” Jazz paused. “Let’s go eat. Maybe that’ll help.”
In the dining hall, an air of bewildered fear replaced the usual peaceful ambiance. Several of the young monks were playing with their food. Others chewed mournfully. After dinner, the women went back to Jazz’s quarters.
“Why don’t you sleep here tonight, Yan?”
“Thank you, I afraid,” Yan admitted.
The cuddled together on the narrow bed and were soon asleep.
Jian arrived early as promised. When Jazz saw him standing outside her door, she wrapped her arms around his stout frame, surprised by how glad she was to see him. Now that she remembered meeting him in Spokane, her feelings for him resurfaced. He was someone she respected. Their philosophies matched, and she recalled their lively conversations.
“How can I help?” Jazz queried.
“Can you try to find Hsu?”
“Of course. I’m very worried about him.”
“Don’t be worried. Hsu knows how to handle himself in difficult situations,” Jian assured her.
“Let’s join the zazen. I’m too tense to do a remote viewing.”
“Good idea,” he agreed.
“I come too,” Yan chimed.
Inside the meditation temple, they sat next to each other. Jazz twisted into the lotus position and slowed her breathing. Her worries faded as she drifted into a place of tranquil concentration. Without intending to, she unexpectedly saw Hsu. He sat in a chair, handcuffed. Three agents surrounded him. Their words were crisp as they sternly eyed him. Hsu appeared calm; he even laughed. After the agents conferred, they left the building.
Jazz needed to switch her focus outside to see where Hsu was. She brought her attention to a window above him. At first, she felt disoriented until she recognized the lake and the arched bridge. Jazz abruptly returned her awareness to the meditation hall then waited until Jian stirred. Shortly, he gracefully rose from the mat. Jazz signaled him to leave with her.
“Hsu’s in the same prison as Minsheng.”
“That’s extremely helpful.”
“I’ll let Yan know. What are you going to do now?”
“I’ll share this information with my associates and keep you informed.” Jian’s expression was somber and he added, “You’ll be safer in a different monastery, now that Hsu’s under scrutiny.”
“I have to take Yan with me.”
“Yes, she should go with you. I may have been followed, so you can’t leave with me. You must take the hidden tunnel.”
“Yan showed me. We couldn’t find the book that opens the door.”
“I’ll help you. You should leave today.”
They headed toward the gazebo. Once there, Jian uncovered and lifted the hatch. He gaped uneasily into the chasm. “I’m not sure I’ll fit anymore,” he said, as he gestured to the opening.
Jazz tried to estimate his girth compared to the width of the passageway. “I forgot the flashlight. I’ll be right back.” Jazz didn’t think he’d fit and she really didn’t want him to become stuck.
Inside her room, she grabbed the flashlight and went back outside. She heard shouting. Instantly alarmed, her heart pounding, the first thing she thought of was Yan. She’s probably in the garden. Jazz found Yan standing in a cabbage patch, a shocked look on her face. Jazz reached for her hand, helping her out of the garden. They bolted toward the tunnel, away from the clamor as Jazz relayed, “Yan, I found Hsu. He’s in the same prison as Minsheng. He looked okay.”
Jian had heard the commotion and bounded back to the monastery. He nearly crashed into the women on the path. Without stopping, Jian turned, motioning them to follow. “The book is on the third shelf from the top, above the desk,” he called out over his shoulder, gasping for air as he ran. “Remove it and go quickly into the shaft. Take the map and stay right until the last fork where you go left. Wait at the end for Chung. There’s food and water along the way.”
They sprinted around the gazebo. Jazz and Yan quickly descended into the cavity. They stood at the foot of the ladder, gazing up at Jian. He forced a wavering smile while repositioning the panel, and the light faded. Jazz wondered what he’d discover upon returning to the monastery.
Jazz crept past the wig, moving faster when the spider stirred inside. They entered the cavern and Yan lit the lamp. Jazz climbed on the desk and counted three shelves from the top. She directed the flashlight steadily across the row of books. “’Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’--I’ve got it!” She didn’t remove it, yet. They searched the desk drawers, gathering the compass, and maps of the tunnel and the terrain where it ended. Yan placed the items in her shoulder bag.
Jazz asked Yan if she was ready and Yan nodded. She scaled the desk then slid the vintage volume from the shelf. The bookcase on the adjacent wall shook. Dust clouded the air. The sound of grinding metal exploded from the shelf. In an instant, the cabinet broke free and moved hesitantly toward them. They went to the opening and peered into stagnant darkness. Jazz stepped into the passage with Yan close behind.
The walls were the same smooth red clay, the floor-packed mud. They again had to swoosh away webs in front of them. They both jumped when the door shut with a loud boom behind them. Jazz wished she had thought to bring the stick, but it was too late to go back.
She sang to forget about spiders and the confined space, belting out, “Suuumertime! and the livin’ is easy, the fish are juuumpin’, and the cotton is hiigh!” Yan cupped her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing.
Eventually the webs thinned. They became more accustomed to the unusual setting, hastening their pace. The passageway coiled for a half mile before they arrived at the first fork. “Jian said to go right.”
The next hallway had a very low ceiling. Yan had to duck to continue. None too soon it opened into a chiseled out hollow where Yan could stand up straight. She stretched her arms above her, arching her back. Jazz found water bottles and bags of dried fruit in a box in the corner. She helped Yan pack a few in her purse. They sat down on the floor of the dank room that smelled of sour earth. Jazz spread out a map and traced their progress with her finger. “We stay right. At the next fork we go left.”
Jazz led Yan into a more spacious channel. They walked faster with fewer webs in the way. Soon the tunnel ended at another hollow. Jazz noticed canned goods stacked on a shelf. Yan picked out beans, mixed vegetables and grabbed an opener, putting the items in her full, now heavy bag.
“Yan, let me carry your bag.”
“No, is okay.”
Yan led the way this time into the left duct that made gentle turns for a half dozen city blocks. At length, a dim light appeared in the distance that grew brighter as the hallway curved. They entered a large space with two couches against opposite walls, a table between them.
Daylight streamed through a grated panel overhead. Jazz climbed the ladder attached to the wall and pushed on the door, but it wouldn’t budge. She felt trapped, encased in a tomb. Gripping a rung of the ladder, she took several deep breaths, closing her eyes to stifle a rising tremor of unease.
The liberated call of a songbird carried across the dense forest outside. Focusing on the melody Jazz calmed and peered through the slits. The sun blazed over the trees. She calculated that it must be early afternoon. “It may take Chung a while, so let’s get comfortable,” Jazz advised as she touched ground.
Yan took candles out of her bag, arranged them on the table, and lit them. They reclined on the timeworn couches. Jazz noticed how peaceful Yan appeared and beautiful in an intriguing, exotic way, magnified by her gentle mien. Yan looked at you like she peered deep into your soul, seeing only goodness. Jazz felt intimidated trying to live up to Yan’s image of her as leader and protector. At length, Yan’s comforting soft snore rocked Jazz into sleep.
Jazz bolted upright, awakened by pounding footsteps coming from the tunnel. She went to Yan. With her finger to her lips, she shook Yan and signaled her to be quiet. Jazz searched for a weapon, but there was nothing for self-defense. Yan snuffed the candles. The women sat tense, waiting. Directly, the small monk appeared in the doorway.
“Chung,” Yan called. They relaxed until they saw the two men behind him.
Chung pointed his stubby finger at Jazz then eyed the men who were scrutinizing her. Jazz noticed a familiar square tattoo on the arms of both men. One of them was elderly, the other young, and the size of a sumo wrestler.
“Yan, what’s going on?”
“Chung say you help Elite.”
“What?” Jazz roared.
The obese Chinese man wrapped his thick hand around her bicep and pushed her toward the tunnel. Jazz gaped helplessly back at Yan who stood with her mouth open. Yan raced after them, but Chung stopped her. Jazz disappeared into the passage, forced along the hallway, squirming, struggling to get out of the painful hold he had on her arm. “Where are you taking me?”
The brute tightened his grip, thrusting her forward.
“Who are you? What do you want?” The men remained silent.
Jazz tried, to no avail, to figure out why the men seemed familiar. At the next hollow, she was flung onto the hard-packed ground.
“Why you in China?” the aging man shouted in English.
“Who are you?” Jazz blurted, staring indignantly up at him.
“We ask, you answer,” he yelled.
“To help find someone.” Jazz didn’t want to implicate herself, Hsu, or anyone else.
“If you tell me who you are I might answer.”
The bald man leapt toward her. With a fleshy hand, he slapped Jazz’s face.
“Fuck!” she screamed, rubbing her cheek.
“We ask, you answer,” the elderly man reiterated.
“Keep your hands off me!” She tried to stand, but the rotund bully forced her back down, and her knees buckled.
“How can you help? How you know where to look?”
“I can see where people are,” Jazz spat between gritted teeth.
“What you mean?”
“It’s called remote viewing.”
“Who you find?”
“That’s none of your business.”
The tyrant came forward again, with his fist raised. Jazz scurried backward to get out of his reach. She braced one leg underneath her and then kicked him in the groin with her other foot. His strained face turned red, sweat appeared on his brow, and he bent forward, his hands between his legs. Seconds later, his chest heaved as he stood. He struck Jazz with an echoing smack. Her neck snapped backward and her head slammed against the floor.
In an instant, Jazz was propelled upright by a force larger than herself. She dug her frayed fingernails into his arm above the tattoo. His mouth curved into a frown. He swatted her to the ground and she crumbled. Jazz’s fingers trembled as she felt the damp spot on her head.
“Who you try to find?” the old man demanded.
“What will you do if I tell you?” She peered at the bloody red blotch on her hand.
“That depends. Who side you on?”
“Whose side are you on?” Jazz countered.
The man lifted his fist to strike her.
“I’m here to find Minsheng!” she cried out before he could hit her again.
They conversed in Mandarin while studying her. Jazz picked out: Minsheng, Hsu, and Chung.
The brute yanked Jazz to her feet. They retraced their steps back along the corridor. When they entered the chamber, Yan rushed to the old man, shouting. He ignored her while speaking to Chung. After that, they turned and stomped away.
“Yan, ask Chung who they are,” Jazz directed, rubbing her cheek and moving her mouth to make sure her jaw wasn’t broken.
Yan conversed with Chung. “His uncle. They assassins.”
“Oh my god. Ask him what they want with me.”
“Chung say you bring disease to China.”
“What does he mean?”
Yan conversed angrily with Chung. “He say you help Elite bring disease to China to control population.”
“That’s ridiculous! Did he contact the assassins?” She glared at Chung.
Yan talked to Chung. “Chung say he no trust you.”
Jazz lunged at Chung, but mustering her strength, stopped before she hit him, lowering her raised fist. She grabbed a bottle of water, steadying her hands to drink while digging deep for control to keep from hurting Chung. Revenge was a useless emotion.
“You bleed.” Yan tore a strip of cloth from the bottom of her kesa and poured water on the rag. “I clean it.”
Jazz sat on the edge of the couch. Yan gently removed the blood and pressed the rag over the wound to stop the bleeding.
“Is it deep?” Jazz asked.
“No, you be okay. It stop bleeding. Now rest.”
Jazz sunk against the back of the couch and confessed, “I don’t feel safe here anymore.”
“Jian want us go to monastery on mountain. Chung take us.”
“How can I trust Chung? He already betrayed me once.”
After Yan and Chung argued, she relayed, “Chung promise he protect us, take us to safe place. Chung will. He alway protect me.”
“Okay, tell Chung I’ll follow him to the monastery, but that better be a safe place. If he tries another stunt like that I will hurt him.”
Chung’s eyebrows lifted when Yan relayed Jazz’s words; then he appeared to feign indifference while Jazz fumed.
“Chung say police take Jian. Agent ask Jian if he know you.”
“Oh no.” Jazz felt defeated and unsure how to proceed without Jian and Hsu.
She wondered if she should borrow Chung’s phone and call Liu, but decided it might be dangerous for Liu and risky for herself and Yan. Liu would probably be notified by one of Jian’s associates. Jazz had to figure out what to do on her own.
“You go, tonight!” Chung stumbled over the English words. “You go, tonight,” he repeated, pointing at the overhead hatch.
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