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Chapter Thirty Two

“A Li? Hello?”

She heard his voice.

Tanay came past the row of refrigerators and dropped an olive-colored duffel bag on the floor. He looked at the body lying amid the fragments of glass. “What happened? Who is this?”

A Li’s mouth hung open. She was trembling and hyperventilating, unable to say anything.

“A Li?” Tanay shook her gently. “A Li!”

“He attacked me.” She began to cry. “He wanted my blood. I …I think I have killed him.” Her voice was almost a whisper.

Tanay pulled her to his chest. A Li felt his strong arms around her. He held her until she calmed down and her breathing slowed.

“Did he hurt you?” he asked, releasing her.

She shook her head.

Tanay looked at the man with the white hair and pale skin lying on the floor. “An albino? I’ve never seen one.” He pushed some glass away with his shoe, bent down, looked at the body and checked for a pulse. “He is dead.” Tanay stood up. “What happened?” he asked again.

“He came into the lab with ether. He wanted to drug me.” A Li picked up the green washcloth. She shook off the splinters of glass and held it to her nose. “Yes, ether.” She held it out to Tanay. “He was shouting about taking my blood. There was something wrong. He came after me, but he could barely walk. I stabbed him in the throat with a pipette syringe.”

“A pipette syringe?”

She nodded. “From Tetsu’s bench. Filled with sodium azide.”

“Someone attacked you and you were able to do this? Tanay looked into her eyes for a moment and she met his gaze.

A Mei, do not be angry... A Mei, stop it!

Tanay pointed to the duffel. “This was outside in the hall.” He unzipped it and dumped the contents onto the floor. A few articles of clothing, a white Nano Center ID card and a plastic bag containing a gray object fell from the duffel. A glass bottle containing a small amount of ether and several blood collection tubes tumbled out and shattered, adding to the pile of broken glass. The smell of the anesthetic drifted through the lab.

“I have killed him.” A Li began to hyperventilate once more. “I will be arrested. Rogs pa byed, rogs pa byed, sdug cag las. skur srung ba ’phebs—”

“Stop.” Tanay dropped the duffel, put his hands on her shoulders and shook her, harder this time. “Speak English! What are you saying? Do you know him?” Tanay bent down and picked up the ID card that had fallen from the duffel bag. “Mark Draper. He works here in the building, on LL2.” He picked up the object encased in several plastic bags. A layer of moisture had collected between each layer of plastic, making it hard to identify. “It looks like a—”

“Help me Tanay. If the police...” A Li gulped air and struggled to gain control of herself. She touched his arm.

“Have you called 911?”

“No. We can’t.”

Tanay placed the ID card and the object in the plastic bags on Tetsu’s bench and turned to A Li. “We’ve got to call security,” he said. “And the police. You can tell them what happened. He attacked you. You defended yourself.”

“No! I have to go home to my father tomorrow. If the police come, they will arrest me and keep me here.” A Li was terrified of the police. In China an investigation could drag on for months, possibly even years, and the police could be brutal. At home, she would be imprisoned and rot in a cell for months or years before she was even charged with an offense. It might be the same in the United States and she would never see her father alive. “I must go to my father. He needs me. He may die. We can’t call the police.”

Tanay stared again at the albino on the floor. “His skin is so white, almost transparent. I’ve never seen such skin.”

“I have seen the Bai Hua Bing in the Center.” She looked again at the syringes and broken tubes on the floor. “Somehow, he must have found out about my blood.” A Li turned to Tanay. “Why are you here?” she asked.

“I got your message. I wanted to see you again before you left. I wanted to...” He looked past her to Hisao’s workbench. The LOG IN page was displayed on the screen of Hisao’s laptop. Next to it, A Li’s laptop screen showed DNA data. “What are you doing?”

She stared at him.

“Are you taking research data?”

She gave a tiny nod.

“A Li, you can’t do this. It’s wrong. If you take this information, you can’t ever come back.” He went to Hisao’s laptop, turned it off and closed it. “Are you coming back?”

A Li still didn’t speak.

Tanay continued, “You have to return. You have to finish your research; you’re part of the team. I want you to come back. Please. I want you to come back.”

A Li was overwhelmed. Everything was happening at once. Her entire life was in chaos and conflicting emotions swept through her. She was overcome with fear and anxiety—she had just killed someone and the police might arrest her. She was worried about her Pa Lags, who might be at death’s door. She had just copied into her laptop some of California University’s most valuable stem cell data, which she planned to take back to China. Now, to complicate everything, Tanay had just told her he wanted her to come back.

Tanay held her for a moment. “A Li,” he whispered, “I’ll help you.” He released her and smoothed her hair with his hand. “Did you come in the front entrance? Did the guards see you?”


“I came through the tunnel.” He sat down on the stool at A Li’s bench. “Let me think.”

She touched him on the shoulder. “I don’t know what to do. I have to go home. I must leave tomorrow.”

Tanay exhaled. “In India, people are killed and their bodies just disappear. There are over a billion people. Life counts for nothing. No one cares. There are no records and no one tells the police anything.” Tanay looked around the lab.

“It is the same in some parts of China,” A Li said, “but this is the United States. When people disappear here, the police investigate.”

Tanay wasn’t listening. “Old. Young. Bodies rot on the streets. Bodies are cremated. Ashes are thrown in the Ganges River. What is one life out of billions? Especially a bad life? Who cares?”

“Cre-may-ted?” A Li said. “Cre-may-shun?” Her English was improving. She knew what the words meant. She pulled her wallet out of her backpack and found the card the big man in the blue suit had given her at the Flower Mart. “Gates of Heaven Mortuary,” she read aloud. “We specialize in memorial services and cre-may-shuns.” She handed it to Tanay.

Tanay took the card and looked at the address. “Burbank?” He paced up and down the aisle of the lab, pulverizing the glass on the floor with his large shoes. “OK, I have an idea, I can take care of this. You’ll see your father. Start cleaning up.” He went to the far end of the lab and entered a storage room.

A moment later, A Li heard a rumble and Tanay returned, rolling one of the square green metal disposal containers. Each side was marked with a black skull and crossbones in a red circle. BIO HAZARD, TOXIC WASTE, DISPOSE PROPERLY appeared in large white letters. Tanay opened the cover, lifted the limp body off the floor and dropped it into the empty bin. It made a soft thud. Tanay looked at it for a moment and then closed the lid.

“Don’t forget the duffel bag,” A Li said. She stuffed the clothing, the tubing and the needles back inside the bag, lifted the lid and dropped it in on top of the body.

Tanay started to push the bin down the aisle of the lab. He stopped, came back to A Li, pulled her close and kissed her lightly on the lips. It was tentative, but it was a kiss. He looked at her. “Please, come back.”

Without thinking, A Li pulled Tanay’s face to hers, kissed him again and pressed against his body. With a single kiss, he had breached the wall within her that held back a lifetime of secret longing and desires.

A Mei, please, do not be angry.

Tanay held her tight for a moment, sighed, turned away and began to roll the container down the aisle again. He paused, took one of the long white lab jackets off a hook on the wall, and put it on. “What time is your flight?” he asked.

“Three-thirty in the afternoon.”

“I’ll call you. Clean up and go home. Get some sleep. Don’t worry about this. It didn’t happen.” Tanay pushed the biohazard container toward the door.

“Thank you for helping me, Tanay.” With all that was going on, with all that was at stake, A Li still felt the touch of his lips and the feeling of Tanay’s body against hers.

He turned back again to look at her. “Please don’t take that data.”

A Li didn’t respond. She just stood and watched him push the biohazard container out through the front door of the lab. She glanced at the debris on the floor, then went to the janitor’s closet and took a broom, a bucket and a dustpan back to her bench. When she began to sweep up the glass, she noticed the ID card and the plastic bag that Tanay had forgotten on Tetsu’s bench. A Li looked more closely at the object encased in plastic bags. Could it be what she thought it was?

She opened the bags, one after the other. The first three contained moisture. When she opened the fourth bag and looked inside, she saw a frozen human foot. She shuddered. Where had it come from? Why would the Bai Hua Bing be carrying a foot around in a plastic bag? Had he stolen it from one of the anatomy labs? She looked at it more closely. It belonged to a female. Above the ankle, the bones of the leg were exposed and broken; the foot had been cut off, but not by a surgeon. It was starting to defrost.

She sealed the foot back inside the plastic bags, wrapped it in paper towels and deposited it in the container marked BIO HAZARD – GENETICALLY ALTERED MATERIAL. A Li then carefully swept the broken glass from the floor and dumped it in the trash. The Bai Hua Bing’s ID card was still on Tetsu’s desk. She slipped it into her pocket.

It was close to midnight. A Li was emotionally and physically exhausted. So much had happened in the last 24 hours. She wanted to go home and sleep. She picked up her backpack, turned off the lights and left the lab.

Be quiet A Mei.

As she walked down the quiet hall to the elevator, she didn’t want to think about her sister—she wanted to concentrate on Tanay.

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