The corridor leading into the jungle castle of the mysterious Chinese ex-general is much cooler and damper than Amy expects. It feels good.
Almost out of nowhere, a stone wall blocks their path. Chewie finds another stone ring and twists it. The wall swings silently toward them. The room beyond is a kitchen lit by a single yellow light glinting off the highly polished metal surfaces of world class furnishings.
Chewie waves Amy into the kitchen, then signals for her to wait while he hangs the torch inside the cave, then closes the secret door, which is camouflaged on the kitchen side by a large set of pots and pans dangling from hooks.
The click of a flipped switch and a sudden explosion of light prompts Amy to drop to a knee. She twists, looking for something to dive behind, sighting the large utility island in the middle of the kitchen.
“No need to hide, Miss Lindsay,” comes an unfamiliar voice… a voice a bit high pitched, and spoken with the precise words of someone well taught English as a second language. “We’ve been waiting for you.” Seeing Chewie has made no effort to hide; in fact seems nonplused, Amy stands slowly.
Across the kitchen, holding open a pair of swinging doors, waits a grim faced Carlos in his green uniform. And beside him: a small, gaunt Oriental man. Despite his lack of stature, he stands barely over five feet tall, and though he wears a thick, inoffensive silk lounging robe, he maintains a strong, commanding, military bearing. General Fu
“A bit early for my liking,” the man continues. ‘So forgive me if I delay the introductions for a more suitable hour.” He signals Chewie with a nod.
“Sorry, Miss Lindsay,” Chewie says.
As Amy turns to look at him she is unable to avoid his touch as he reaches for her arm. She feels the brief sting where he taps her upper arm. Amy jerks away. The shiny room begins swirling, and she feels herself falling. Darkness smothers her.
Awareness washes over Amy Lindsay in smooth, warm waves. Softness envelops her body from her chin downward. She arches languidly against the persistent pressure of, her body and mind inform her, a thick silk quilt. Her eyes flutter open. A dim light above and behind her is quickly swallowed by darkness.
Awareness slams into her conscious mind, flooding it with memories. The Canadian border crossing. Bobby Chung’s gruesome death. The attempted kidnaping, then the successful one. Genius showing up the compound in Mexico. The flight to South America and betrayal by Carlos. The incredible underground village and Genius–-
Amy’s body bolts upright in the bed. Her training (Assess Your Surroundings) kicks in just in time to remind her not to cry out. She settles back down and waits for her eyes to accustom themselves to the dim light.
Before her vision adjusts a soft knock drifts to her from across the room. A creaking door allows a splash of light to fall across the room… a room dominated by bare stone walls and floor, and a single window covered by a dark, thick curtain. Amy sits up, working her legs to reduce the binding effects of the heavy quilt in case escape offered an opportunity. Then the door closes, filling the room with an oppressive gloom.
The gentle hiss of soft footsteps whisper across the room toward Amy. She readies herself to throw aside the thick comforter, but the whispering footsteps drift away, and a whoosh of thick fabric being swept aside is followed by a surge of daylight. Amy’s first instinct is to protect her eyes, but the burst of light is gentle… sunrise, judging by the glow.
Amy wonders: Sunrise when? How long have I been out? Just a couple of hours? Or a whole day?
Revealed by the wash of light is a small oriental woman. A black kimono dominated by a serpentine green dragon fits neatly over a firm, narrow back. The woman turns, and seeing Amy awake, smiles. Amy estimates her age to be early twenties. In her arms, she holds a neatly folded green robe.
“To get cleaned up, please,” the woman says, her accent slight. With one hand she gestures toward a thin, silk print (dragon motif, of course) covering a narrow opening in the stone wall. “Breakfast almost ready.”
Amy pulls the thick comforter to her chin. “Where are my clothes?”
The woman holds up the robe. “To wear this now, please?” She points to a small changing screen, again dominated by a dragon design, angled in a corner. “Clothes behind there.”
Amy accepts the robe from the demure woman and rolls off the bed’s other side to keep it between them. As she slips into the robe, which seems just her size, she asks the woman, “Who are you?”
“I am Zhenzhen,” she replies with a slight bow. Smiling politely, she adds, “It means precious. People always ask.”
“My name is Amy. It means loved. Not that anyone ever asks.”
Zhenzhen’s lips curl a bit with a genuine smile. Then, she resumes her serious pose. “Breakfast in fifteen minutes. Please to clean up and dress.” After another bow, she turns and scurries from the room.
Amy waits until she hears the click of the door being locked. “Food and clean clothes,” she murmurs, “but I’m still a prisoner.”
Prompted by her training to, first, get your bearings, Amy makes her way to the window. It was clean, double-paned and immovable and overlooked the castle’s rear courtyard and jungle beyond from a height of about three stories. Onto Plan B. Go with the flow.
The side room contains a shower stall, small basin and an abundance of towels. Amy soaks one of the larger towels (noting the flash heating of the water… General Fu may like to secret himself in an ancient castle, but he required certain modern comforts) and invigorates herself with a quick, thorough rub down.
The sole article of clothing behind the changing screen is a powder blue silk cheongsam (the ubiquitous dragon design on the back) draped over a full length mirror. It slips on comfortably and Amy has to admit satisfaction with the way the high, closed collar, loose chest, tight waisted traditional Chinese dress compliments her form… especially the high slits accentuating her long legs. Though, she notes disapprovingly, how, despite the slits, the dress is tight and clingy enough to somewhat restrict her range of movement. She spies a pair of oriental sandals at the foot of the mirror. They appear nicely broken in and just her size.
As Amy shifts her weight from one foot to the other to slip on the sandals a short, insistent knock on the door startles her. She looks at the sandal in her hand and realizes it provided a wholly inadequate weapon.
Go with the flow, she decides, and resumes slipping it on while calling out, “Yes?”
Peering over the changing screen she watches the door crack open and Carlos peek around the edge of the thick, wooden door.
“Are you decent?”
“Would it matter?” she replies, stepping out from behind the screen. She begins ticking off in her mind the many ways to kill a man with her bare hands.
Carlos freezes a moment at the sight of her, then smiles and edges completely into the room and eases the door shut behind him. “You look incredible, Goddess.”
“Think you boss will approve?”
A flicker of uncertainty… and something Amy can’t quite place… rushes across Carlos’ face. “You are a blonde. He will approve.”
“There’s a ringing endorsement.”
“What I mean-– .”
“Never mind,” Amy replies, snapping a bit so as not to give Carlos the impression she was anything less than disgusted with him. “Are you here to escort me to breakfast. Shouldn’t keep your master waiting.”
Carlos stiffens as if slapped, then, tight-lipped, opens the door and abruptly waves for Amy to precede him.
The corridor is as Amy imagines: stone on all sides, a bit narrow, and slightly chilly. As another concession to modern conveniences, the jutting torches spaced out along the walls to Amy’s right are made of plastic and tipped with incandescent bulbs shaped like flames. On the left the corridor stopped abruptly at a large steel door.
Carlos produces a large key and unlocks the door. A brief landing beyond gives way to a gently spiraling stone stairway. Carlos waves toward the stairway.
Within the first couple of steps he says softly, “You’ve put me in a very difficult position, Goddess.”
“I’ve put you in one?”
“I’d had a different plan for getting you and Genius into the castle.”
“You mean for kidnaping us?”
Carlos gently touches her arm, signaling to stop their descent. “I had planned to explain things when we reached the village.”
“That would have been a hell of a story,” Amy says with derision. “Which village? The fake one the ‘dragon’ attacks? Or the one underground?”
“It would have been a hell of a story, yes. And a long one. One more believable after I’d earned your trust. Now, I have to give you the short version, and pray you believe me.”
“That’ll take some heavy praying.”
“I realize that. You see, I am what you call…” Carlos looks up and down the stairway, then back to Amy. “… a double agent.”
“I know. We saw the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid tattoo.”
“I realized that when you abandoned me in the jungle. Yes, I am a member of the Brotherhood. But it is not what you think. If I know Genius, he searched my jeep, right?”
“He found a nine millimeter pistol? Biometric lock?”
“Yes. Standard C.I.A. issue. He wondered what agent you killed to get it.”
“My killing the man it was issued to would have been an act of suicide.” Carlos spreads his hands and tilts his head, as if to ask… Understand what I’m saying?
Amy studies the big man’s imploring expression. Carlos? A C.I.A. agent? Or, just another ploy to gain her trust? “I’m supposed to take your word for this?”
“The reasons to distrust me only seem justified,” he laments, seemingly with genuine emotion, “If only you and Genius hadn’t been so rash, so quick to mistrust.”
“Or you had been quicker to take us into your confidence.”
After a moment, Carlos sighs and concedes her point with a nod. “We should be going. The General can be very paranoid, at times, and he will wonder what is keeping us.” He motions for them to resume down the stairway. “Just do me the favor of not doing anything rash until we’ve had another chance to talk.”
“Of course,” Amy promises, fully intending to ignore that promise the first time opportunity provided her a chance of escape.
The stairway ended at another locked, steel door… unlocked by Carlos with the same key, Amy noted. He led her through a couple of turns of the repetitive, featureless corridor, then, a massive wooden double door (unlocked) into a large exhibit room dominated with a large fireplace, and filled with ancient feudal weapons: maces, lances, crossbows, shields and things Amy did not recognize. Taking up most space is a ancient Roman chariot.
Amy’s eye is drawn to a wall dedicated to swords of various types and sizes. She moves for a closer look. Prominent in the middle of the wall display, lit to am almost a golden glow by small, strategically spotlights, hung the glass, dragon slaying sword of Ah Mah Lin Say, the Sun Goddess.
Carlos moves beside her to study the sword. “Chewie told me you were told the legend of the Ah Mah Lin Say.”
“An incredible story.”
“Yes, it is. So is the real story.”
“What do you mean, the real story?”
Carlos takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. “What you saw on the scrolls was a fiction. Our ancestors didn’t record legends on scrolls. What you saw was something the elders of my tribe and I came up with several years ago, as a way to protect our people.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The Brotherhood, the new Brotherhood, some time ago realized two things. There will always be invaders, interlopers come to conquer us. We also realized the power of the myth. People will rarely be roused to fight for a cause. It is much easier to get them to fight for a legend. So the Brotherhood invented a legend. No, not invented. We have always had the story of Ah Mah Lin Say, the Sun Goddess. We more like, re-wrote it.”
“Starring me. Why?”
“The resemblance in names.”
It takes a moment to sink in, and when it does, Amy struggles to keep her anger in check. “You mean my life has been endangered, several times, I’m being held hostage, and one of my dearest friends is close to death, if not dead already, all because my name happens to sound like someone in one of your ancient legends?”
Carlos spreads his hands apologetically, and his reply is cut off by the squeak of a door. Amy looks over his shoulder to the far side of the display room and sees Zhenzhen.
“Please to come in. Breakfast is served.”
Carlos steps to one side. “He’ll be wanting to dine alone with you. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Damn right you will,” Amy tells him through a grit smile.
“Tread lightly with the General. He’s in a bad mood this morning.”
“That makes two of us,” Amy replies and pushes past Carlos to meet with the man who, through the most improbable of circumstances, holds her future in his hands.
TO BE CONTINUED