Kathy’s visits to China had always been on Company business. Which was a shame since the entire country was full of culture, history and beauty. She realized this more than ever as they stood looking at the seven hundred year old wall around Xian‘s inner city. Sure she‘d learned Mandarin for her work in The Company, but there had been other more personal reasons.
If the wall in front of them was testimony to China’s great past the train station behind them testified to its bright future. It covered nearly a quarter million square feet and served a hundred thousand passengers a day. The ability for the modern and ancient China to coexist could be seen a few hundred feet north of it in a park enclosing the ruins of an ancient palace. And in the forty foot high wall looking down on them. If she stood there long enough Kathy knew she could have felt the ghosts of the builders staring down at her.
Of course she realized John was more interested in his deadline than Chinese history and pulled herself back to the twenty-first century. She spotted a cab and hailed it. It was a model made in China that looked a lot like an America made Toyota Corolla, except this one ran on compressed natural gas.
Their destination was the Shibianyu Reservoir in the hills south of Xian. A castle had been built there during the Han dynasty on the steep hills overlooking the river now dammed to provide water to the city. Reportedly precision instruments had been made there by master craftsmen guarded by Imperial troops. This was the monastery Dr. Cruz had mentioned and John wanted to see if he a link to the Yucatan Maya.
The road to the Reservoir reminded Kathy of northern Italy, a narrow valley with steep hills rising on either side. Tunnels had been cut through the stone in places and she was glad to see the roads was in relatively good shape. The rocky riverbed gave a good idea of the violent river the dam had been built to control. Kathy sat behind the driver and John was up front next to him. Both were able to see into the deep valley below and appreciate the steep stone walls that supported the road.
The steep river valley meant the road wound around curves where you could reach out and shake hands with the person in the back seat. But their driver was used to the busy streets of Xian and these he raced around the hairpin curves with ease. Soon they reach the road overlooking the spillway directly below the Shibianyu Reservoir. The huge earthen dam’s surface was covered with stones and with five huge red Chinese characters written on it. It was mute testimony to the determination and progress of the human race.
The road leveled out and ran straight with the wide reservoir to its right. They passed through a tunnel carved from living stone then the cab pulled to its right into a row of parking spaces and stopped. Kathy produced the fare— in Chinese yuan— and asked the driver to wait.
The stone buildings overlooking the water were a combination dam-keeper’s office and museum for the castle that had sat high above them. The castle —a rich historical site— wasn’t open to visitors but the artifacts that had been found were displayed here in the two story museum. In a nod to xenophobic capitalism free for citizens but foreigners had to pay admission. Kathy handed over about three hundred yuan—roughly fifty dollars—- and John threw in five hundred as a donation to ensure cooperation. It was worth it.
The museum was more like a warehouse where glass fronted shelves literally stacked with artifacts in various states of ruin. Small cards written in Chinese referred visitors to thick notebooks—also in Chinese—that held photographs and detailed descriptions of the displayed items. The two Americans perused the second floor displays, looking for instruments like the ones in the Yucatan and hit pay dirt. A worn wooden workbench sat in the open on the floor with two dozen of the calipers they were looking for literally piled on a glass encased shelf above it.
John summoned the lone guide—a college student who spoke English— and Kathy asked her about the instruments. The student explained a box of these had been found by the workbench. Her professor said the find demonstrated that while Western Europe was still in the Dark Ages the Han Dynasty were mass producing these precision instruments.
The two headed downstairs to the library, two rooms literally packed with metal shelves filled with notebooks about the site and the artifacts. As she squeezed toward the single rickety card table at the back Kathy could taste the old paper in the air. But the sheer knowledge stashed her was mute testimony to just how overwhelmingly rich a country China was. Not for the first time did she wonder if Western Powers had subjugated it because they couldn’t stand the thought of such a rich, pagan culture.
The student guide found an entire notebook—three inches thick— devoted to the workbench. As Kathy read the archaeologist’s report aloud John took notes and the student hung around ostensibly to keep an eye on the visitors. Actually she was bored stiff and really didn’t want to study for her next history exam. Also, despite the valuable collection, they rarely received many visitors, especially foreign ones.
The notebook said the find had excited Chinese archaeologists because of the quantity of items and their unique designs. They believed close to a thousand instruments had been crafted here over a five year period, a volume surprising even in the Han Dynasty. These also were the only examples of Chinese calipers decorated with leopards.
Kathy was looking over the series of photographs when she stopped reading and turned to John. “Let me see that sack of old books.”
John laid the satchel on the creaking table and Kathy picked one out, flipping through the pages until she came to a hundred year old etching of a Mayan stelae. She pointed at it. “Look.”
There was more than a passing resemblance between the jaguar in the engraving and the “leopard” in the Chinese photographs. The student looked over their shoulder and spoke in Chinese. “They’re the same.” She studied it hard. “What does it mean? Where did you get this book?”
Kathy paused to consider the calculated risk she was about to take. She’d seen the book the history student was reading and knew the girl was about to graduate. While John needed this scoop for one week the girl could use it as to get fame as the historian who discovered what they just had.
Kathy liked to build relationships and alliances when she worked in the field. Extending some trust usually paid off when she was able to collect more information than many of her male colleagues. And sometimes it had saved her life.
She looked at the Chinese student. “This is a book about the Mayan civilization in Mexico fifteen hundred years ago.” The student nodded and the secret agent tapped the photograph in the Chinese notebook. “This isn’t a leopard, it’s a jaguar.”
The student’s brain made the connection and her jaw literally dropped. “But that was…”
Kathy nodded and lowered her voice. “We’re news reporters researching Twenty Twelve.“
The girl nodded. “Oh, yeah. I saw the movie and I’ve got the rock song.“
Now John realized where Kathy was going with this and spoke. “Several of these calipers were found in the Yucatan. If you’ll keep quiet about it, we won’t mention it either.”
The girl grinned. “I’m going to be famous.”
John nodded and dug out a business card. “Call me when you’re ready to begin your research. The caliper is tucked away in a private warehouse but I’ll arrange for you to get a look at it.“
Kathy spoke as the girl nodded and took the card. “Do you know anything about the craftsmen who built these?”
“He was a famous Buddhist monk who worked in jade. Ultimately he traveled to Tibet and was never heard from again, although it is rumored he joined the Hidden Monastery there. We have a book about him.”
The girl left the room as Kathy snapped photos of the notebook and John put away his book. Kathy grinned at the journalist. “Wow, you hit pay dirt.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is great, but I still can’t prove the Maya were preparing for Twenty Twelve. I mean, sure they had contact with the Chinese and buried stuff where it’d be safe. But so did a lot of other folks. I’ve still got nothing.”
Kathy frowned but said nothing. The incredible discovery it didn’t help him one bit. This Indiana Jones business was exciting but not nearly as much fun if he wouldn’t get the job. She was disappointed for John. Suddenly she looked around. Where was the girl with the book? John had noticed it to and now shouldered both his bags. “Let’s go.”
“Now? This is the mother lode.”
“Yeah, but I’ve got a story to do. Its gonna take nearly a day to reach Tibet and find this ‘Hidden Monastery.’ We’ve got to get going.”
At the top of the narrow stairs the girl and the guard were nowhere to be seen in the crowded museum. An alarm in the back of Kathy’s brain started going off but John just shrugged and said. “We paid, let’s go.”
They walked out into the crisp mountain air where the taxi on the other side of three other cars. Watching them intently from his seat was the driver who smiled and waved. Now both Americans frowned. No cabbies worth his license would just sit there and wait for you. They read the paper, listened to music or usually slept. Instinct told the pair something was off.
As they stopped three men with Kalashnikov assault rifles stood up from behind the sedan closest to them. The train of thought that had already begun in Kathy’s brain now jolted her into instant action. She grabbed John’s hand and pushed him to their right, clearing the fence over the reservoir as the gunfire started. As the cold, dark water rushed up at them Kathy only had time to hope it was deep enough. Then she hit the surface.