Life after the devastating biological terrorist attack that decimated the White population in the US is beginning to recover as Tzu Lin Kwan is finally able to deliver her precious cargo of herbs to her scientist father. Or is it?
The virus may be mutating, spreading to infect those previously immune. Tzu Shin and his fellow scientists—and now Kwan—are literal prisoners of the US military. The White supremacist army of the demagogue Gabriel has invaded St. Louis. And the Chinese assassin Piao knows where to find his targets.
Kwan and her friends Valery, Eddie, and San are ready to fight to the death to defend their recovering world. The question is: Are courage and determination enough?
The family house in Cherokee, St. Louis
Jin Piao stretched lazily in the twin-sized bed, savoring the few minutes of quiet. Pale gray light came through the window, announcing the arrival of dawn. Weeks now since the arrival of his caravan, which had started as travelers from disparate areas of San Francisco before gradually uniting as they came cross-country, he’d begun to feel a part of this motley family. Certainly, they welcomed him, sharing meals, playing games in the evenings. He even enjoyed their late-night exchange of conversation in the family room.
No one knew the real reason he was here.
The Ministry of State Security had sent him after Lin Kwan with her packets of Chinese herbs. He’d left Hong Kong, traversed the Pacific Ocean, and come across the United States—what was left of it, anyway.
Kwan had traveled here to find her scientist father. Once they reunited, Piao would be in a position to complete his mission and end the hope of America recovering its former status as a world leader.
So his Chinese masters thought, but there was much they did not know about this land. They’d assumed that during the Second Holocaust, after Cambodian terrorists released the virus that killed White people—first in California, then across the States, then around the world—that the U.S. population would be decimated and therefore easy to conquer. While they hadn’t started the fight, they were certainly happy to finish it.
Piao, however, had discovered that not only had many Whites survived, thanks to mixed racial lines, but that the country had a solid base of citizens of Hispanic and African-American heritage, especially here in St. Louis. This new capital of the States served as a magnet, drawing more survivors every day, the vast majority being people of color. The America his masters had known might no longer exist, but the country was by no means a dead enemy—with or without the herbs.
Lin Kwan had been cagy of late, but he had seen her packing her meager belongings. He gathered she intended to leave for the East, to Ohio, wherever that was. He knew because her traveling companion Valery Paz had none of the privacy reservations of her friend. She told everyone everything. The departure was planned for this week. Once they left, Piao would follow and complete his mission.
He smiled at the thought of being able to return to his wife in China, and his newborn son Hu. They awaited him at the assignment’s end.
Lifting his head from the firm pillow, he listened for foot traffic outside his door. It was quiet. Quieter than it should be. A thrill of alarm zigzagging through his stomach, he twisted out of bed, then opened the door to get a better idea of what was happening.
A dozen people shared this house owned by Eddie Garrick, the radio personality and friend of Xi San. It should be noisier. Several voices came up the polished stairway from the kitchen, one floor below, none of them belonging to the two women.
He hurriedly pulled on the clothing he’d tossed on the floor the previous night, then slipped out into the hall. Kwan and Valery’s room was to the left of his, the door standing open. He peeked inside, finding their bags gone and beds made.
Damn. I’ve missed them. How had that happened?
Barefoot, he padded downstairs to the kitchen, arriving as Xi San and Eddie Garrick came in the back door. Marie Westbrook, their unofficial housemother, set out a fresh tray of biscuits. Her red hair was well-coiffed, and her face perfectly made up, as always, even at the crack of dawn.
“Did the girls get off all right?” she asked, eyes bright.
San nodded, his jaw tight.
Piao studied the former Enforcer, a man who’d lost everything but his life before he’d decided to become a vigilante crime fighter on the streets of San Francisco. San was hard in every way possible—muscle, attitude, and heart. Or he had been, before he met Kwan.
“They’re gone?” Piao said, trying not to sound too alarmed. His mission could be totally lost.
Eddie studied him. “Didn’t know you were so interested in them, buddy.”
Piao realized he needed some excuse for his sudden concern.
“Kwan said Valery was staying here. I was to go with her.”
“Really?” Eddie grabbed a biscuit and took a bite, continuing with his mouth full. “Never said that to me.”
San’s dark eyes pierced the lie. “Or me.”
Marie looked from one to the other of them, eyes narrowed as she tried to suss out the cause of the tension.
“I’m sure we’ll hear from them soon. Kwan, at least, will follow up with news. She’s such a good girl. I just hope she finds her father.”
“We all do,” Piao said. He felt like he was still under scrutiny from San and Eddie, who’d gone to the beverage area of the kitchen, so he moved close to admire Marie’s baking. “Are these for anyone?” he asked.
“Absolutely. Help yourself. Water’s hot for tea.” She went to the doorway and called upstairs for her roommate. “Jack. Breakfast!”
Piao made a show of setting a plate with two biscuits on the nook table, piling them with sweet berry preserves. The other two men began talking about San’s job search and lack of success, and eventually, they wandered out to chat elsewhere. Piao hardly noticed, his mind already making plans.
If the girls had left just within the hour, he could likely catch up with them. The interstate highways were clear to the east; he’d heard people talking about it. A man alone could make good time.
He listened for the footsteps of the others, but no one came. The smell of the biscuits he hadn’t even wanted called to him, and he held one up to his nose, taking a long sniff. After that one moment of sheer enjoyment, he ate them down to the last crumb. The warm bread was flaky and delicious, a novelty to him. They didn’t have such things in China. The closest thing he could compare it to was a biscuit roll, a thin rolled pastry much more like a cookie than this bread.
The jam, too, was full-flavored and delectable.
Even though he’d tried to keep active, teaching martial arts to children at the neighborhood center, he’d gained more than eighteen jin, or twenty pounds, since he’d crossed the ocean on the huge tank ship. Fortunately, his activities had allowed some of it to remain strong muscle.
Marie returned with pudgy old man Jack on her heels. Jack poured them both coffee as she prepared a plate of biscuits; then they headed for the table where Piao sat. It was a perfect chance to escape without drawing attention.
“Please,” he said, giving up his seat, holding the chair for Marie as he’d seen Jack do.
“Oh, you don’t have to go, honey,” she said. “We’d be happy to join you.”
“Yes, Piao,” Jack chimed in. “We haven’t seen you nearly enough since you’ve been teaching.”
Piao bent in a slight bow. “So kind of you, but again I have an early class. Thank you for the breakfast, mou chan.” He turned and left the kitchen.
“Have a good class!” she called after him.
Piao slowed as soon as he was out of sight, wanting to see if anything more was said about the departure of Kwan and her friend, but all he heard was an affectionate, “He’s so sweet” from Marie before Jack launched into a discussion of the medicinal herbs they’d have to harvest that morning.
He bolted up the stairs, closing his door after he entered the room. He pulled on heavy black boots. His brown leather jacket would protect him from the wind while riding his motorcycle, even if it would be too warm by the late August afternoon. Sorting through his remaining belongings, he decided to abandon them. He’d learned to travel light.
Ha! On this trip you came with only the shirt on your back!
His ego still burned at the way Kwan’s sensei Li Zhong had bested him on the docks in Hong Kong. Piao could have killed him, and the girl, and disposed of the damned herbs over the side of the boat, and no one would have been the wiser. Who’d have guessed the old warrior still had a few tricks left in him?
The last thing he packed was a shiny silver-barreled gun he tucked into the side pocket of the pack for easy access. He’d scrounged it in one of the small towns the group had passed through on its way from California. He preferred hand-to-hand combat, but he had to assure the success of his mission.
Once he found Kwan, her traitor father, and the herbs all in the same place, he could destroy them all. He’d end this threat to his country at last, and go home to hold his son.
He grabbed his backpack, then closed the door as he went out, hoping to delay discovery of his departure as long as he could. His bike was parked in the rear of the house. He hopped on, started it with a single kick, and headed off to find the highway.