Kathy was awake when the train pulled into Lhasa about five thirty in the morning. She woke John, who was soon up and ready to go. Neither knew what would happen next but they had to be ready for anything. Fortunately thirty three hours in the train compartment hadn’t been as bad as it sounded. Kathy’s watertight book bag had kept her Chinese books relatively dry and safe. A few were damp, but they dried quickly so she was able to reference them during the daylight hours of their little trip.
The subject of the entire time had been the ’Hidden Monastery.’ While none of Professor Braun’s books dealt with it one of ‘Andrea’s’ did. A thick Chinese text, Sacred Buddhist Archaeology and Architecture in China discussed it during the introduction to Tibetan sites. Evidently it was a repository of secret knowledge in Tibet with several ancient references to items placed there, things seen there or individual monks dedicated to it. The author believed that the Hidden Monastery was actually a fortified prison, similar to the Bastille or the Tower of London .
The secret location, valuable contents and the fact that many of the monks sent to the Hidden Monastery had discipline issues had led to this conclusion. The author assumed it had been abandoned sometime within the past four hundred years. He also refused to even hint at its location, since anyone who admitted such knowledge turned up dead. Instead he stated clearly he didn’t know the location and hadn’t tried to find out.
This had left the couple with very little to go on. Kathy suggested checking out a geological survey, counting on the Monastery to either be very remote location or very urban. That was where you hid things, far away or in plain sight. John agreed but hid the frustration he was feeling. With four days to deadline it was looking pretty desperate. Tibet was not only part of China, but it was also one of the most rugged places on earth. Even if they hadn’t been smuggled in he’d need four days just to start getting permits.
But he kept all this to himself. He hadn’t spent much time around ‘Andrea,’ but John realized she had her own concerns. Sometimes during the train ride –when she thought he wasn’t looking–he’d catch her thinking. It didn’t take his journalistic instincts to know the woman carried her heaviest baggage inside.
But now they were in Lhasa, home to the famous Potala Palace where the Dalai Lama had lived before the nineteen fifties. The city sat in a river valley around ten thousand feet above sea level with only about half as much oxygen as they were used to. It was a city full of rich architecture and heritage and a political hotspot where she didn’t need to be.
The train stopped and for the first time in thirty three hours someone stopped outside their cabin. They unlocked the door and opened it. A Chinese woman in a black suit and sunglasses standing there beckoned to the two of them. Each carrying two bags, they followed her through the darkened corridor to the train door and off the train onto the platform. She led them to the side of the platform, opened a door, then stepped through it closing it behind her. They were left there, alone, in the chilly mountain air.
The pair walked into the station moving as thought they had somewhere they needed to be despite the fact they really didn‘t. Even at five twenty in the morning there was a fairly large crowd buzzing through the huge hall. The two walked through the terminal to the front door. They kept moving like two busy people with their ride waiting on them.
Once out the front door and both of them stopped since suddenly it didn’t matter quite as much if they were noticed. Their single paddle had had just fallen overboard. The geography of Lhasa’s river meant the train station was built several miles from the city. Even if they had wanted to be noticed the high altitude precluded walking to it. They were stuck.
John took a deep breath and reminded himself that it was just a job. Of course it wasn’t the prospect of job hunting that annoyed him, but the fact Oscar would win. And he was also thinking of ‘Andrea.’ When he looked over at her she was kind of staring up at the sky and he wondered if she were praying. As he sent a little prayer upward her jaw dropped and she stared straight ahead. John looked in that direction and his jaw dropped, too.
A black Acura MDX had pulled to a stop between the train station and a large red pavilion out front. From the open left hand driver’s side window Anne Rutgers waved to them “Let’s go. Time’s a wastin‘.”