The hot noodle soup Loo was eating finally warmed her insides. Other than the clinking of dishes and the chatter of Eric and Albert she could hear the rain outside beginning to pour into the alley. Water fell in diagonal sheets tapping the windows with their million fingertips in rushing waves.
Loo thought of her BART drawing pinned to the bulletin board. Would the water disintegrate the paper? Wash away the colors? Nothing left but hints of flashing lights? She tried to remember which way the picture was facing. The rain was falling at such an angle she figured the entire image would disappear or be altogether spared. She wondered if this was Joanna’s fate. Would she altogether disappear? Would someone, Albert even, find Joanna safe? Would she be sitting in some room full of intellectuals, happy, free, talking about the sociological impact of mass abduction, of mind control, brain washing, forced testimonies like captured journalists at gunpoint reciting fake news on Syria’s warfront, chattering about the failures of American diplomacy, of the head of the snake, only to have their own heads ceremoniously thrown into the desert? Would it all be a sham? Loo felt all of her insides covered in dirt and grime.
“The note also says something else,” Albert was saying.
Eric interrupted him to talk about an Infection Control officer on campus a week ago aiming a heat-sensor gun at one of the popular philosophy professors. The professor had been jumping back and forth behind a tree, his wiry grey beard flailing along with his arms like some desperate magician unable to unleash a spell. The Infection Control officer finally took a reading and the professor lay in a slab of grass crying about the end of it all.
Suddenly feeling sick, perhaps from a bite of shrimp, Loo dropped her spoon into the soup and pushed the bowl away. Maybe it was Albert’s temperament. Was she getting sick of this after all?
“What’s wrong with you?” Albert looked at her like she should have been left on the BART.
“Nothing. I’m full.”
Eric nodded to the note. “What else does it say besides the tea garden meeting?”
“I want to know what happened to the professor? Who was it?” Albert said.
“Oh yeah,” Eric wiped his mouth. He’d eaten a plate of dim sum. “He was full-on sick. But nothing like you’re thinking. We were only quarantined for a day. He had shingles.”
Albert put the note in his pocket.
“Wait, what did it say?”
Albert pushed his plate away too, his chow mein half eaten. “I think something bad is going to happen to some of us.”
“Us? No, man.” Eric flipped a pocketknife out of his pants. Just as quick, he shoved it back into his pocket before any of the waiters could see. “No one’s taking me without a fight.”
“Big use that is against someone with a gun,” Albert said.
“You’d be surprised.”
“Blood can be infected,” Loo said calmly, as if she didn’t care what happened to any of them. She wondered what Eric’s blood would look like to paint. She imagined him in a rainy alley covered in crimson, rain and neon.
The sirens started up again. Lights flashed past the window. Red and white and noisy.
The three of them stopped talking as the siren was followed by two more roaring engines.
“It says, ‘IMPLANT,’” Albert said.
Even though Loo’s stomach hurt she found herself ignoring Albert’s voice again. His long hair had a slight curl from all the wetness outside. Had hers? He was attractive in the restaurant light. It was very bright in here actually. She could see how tired he was. The bags under his eyes from staying up late every night. At the same time his slight beard was scratchy enough to cuddle. He was so standoffish she didn’t try to touch him. She wanted go to his place, stay in his bed, feel his hardness and warmth as she fell asleep to the rain.
Eric and Albert were debating implants and the biohacker Peter Venfinkel. Neither could agree if the note meant someone like Peter with an implant was going to meet them and show off some awful scar, or if this was some warning about the Geheimnisse, that maybe something horrible was about to be witnessed. Not out in the open, Albert warned. No one is going to take us to a tea garden and implant all the evil in the world.
Loo was growing tired. She imagined Albert excited. She liked thinking about him without his clothes on. Helped her stomach force away the knots. Helped her to stop thinking about her family or the sirens that were howling again outside the restaurant.
“Let’s get out of here,” Albert said. Loo was certain he knew what she was thinking. He actually looked into her eyes and seemed to soften towards her. “The rain just let up. I’ve got to get some sleep eventually. And this meeting isn’t for two days.”
This night had been too long, Loo thought. She tried to smile but was sure it came out like a puff of air. Not that she couldn’t handle long nights. But she was ready to go. She grimaced. Maybe that would look more like a smile.