Loo stopped walking to pin a drawing to a bulletin board with a grey tack. Around her she could hear sirens racing the city’s paved hills. There was no telling which street they were wailing their sad, shrill songs. She inspected the spaces between the tops of buildings. Could there be winged creatures atop Coit Tower? She imagined beautiful women luring ships from the deep black Pacific while at the same time warning of the fatal lethargy of San Francisco’s impending mass infection.
She didn’t bother to tell Albert or Eric to wait up. They were close to one of Chinatown’s alleys. She knew where they were headed as they rounded the corner. What did it matter if she was alone at night for a few minutes or several hours? Her father would probably yell at her when she got home, not that he ever got loud. It was that tone of his—a whispering scream about her wandering the city. She would avoid going home as long as she could. She licked the wetness from her bottom lip. Hopefully he and Angela would be asleep, stared at by the ghostly presence of Yi Min running her blue fingers along the sheets.
Sometimes Loo preferred the solitude of the city, though right then she was still cold. You only felt more alone when shivering. She felt this, lived it. The rain had stopped but was replaced by a mist of white droplets. Every wave of them on her cheeks were pinprick reminders of the freezing night, of the sting of the sirens. Would she become one of them with her drawing? If she could only flash and burst with color while screaming then she wouldn’t have to draw.
Normally Loo saved her drawings, especially any that had to do with following the disappearance of Joanne or the workings of the Geheimnisse. This picture was her interpretation of the man with the African accent on the BART surrounded by passengers in masks and gloves. He was pleading. Crying. Albert and Eric were complacently staring in the drawing. The man’s child was crying too, begging for daddy to make all the people stop looking at her. “Will you all please stop this madness,” he cried. She wrote those words on the bottom of the paper. Also in the sketch was the man who appeared out of nowhere. Everyone knew he was from Infection Control. Those men were sort of like air marshals. They could be anywhere in the city, especially around transportation hubs, ready to tranquilize or terminate a suspected carrier. Some of the carriers had been known to claw at anyone around them, ripping through bio-suits, clothes. Some, the government ruled, simply had to be put down. He had a heat sensor that resembled some kind of bulky sci-fi laser gun that could burn the heart out of any creature. He seemed to aim it at the little girl’s heart. How big could her heart have been? Rapidly pumping blood. Contracting in and out like a firing piston it couldn’t have been any larger than a rubber ball, and was likely no different, rippling rubbery tissue bouncing off the girl’s insides like some kind of organic pinball machine. When the man lowered the heat sensor there was this moment where Loo expected a sheer panic of men and women scrambling over each other to escape the train. If they weren’t infected by Ebola, it would have been the foulness of madness until dawn. Voyage au bout de la nuit.
“There is no infection, no danger,” the Infection Control agent said. “This girl has no fever.” She had written those words on the drawing too. He holstered his gun in some hidden jacket fold and disappeared deep into the railcars. The train lurched forward, the whine of the BART like a cry of satisfaction, pulling itself down the tracks as if searching for somewhere the passengers could breathe again.
Loo wanted everyone to see her drawing, to know the panic on the faces of the transit train passengers. She stuck some extra tacks in it. Then the sirens grew louder. An ambulance flew past. The lights flashed on her drawing as if the entire scene was an emergency about to explode into the rain, toward the thinly-veiled olive moon. The emergency vehicle was followed by a silent, stealthy black car. There were other plainclothes government officers, Loo knew. Some followed the sirens in unmarked black government sedans like the one that just passed. Albert called them the Overseers. They’d seen a few of them outside their cars over the past couple years. Often on television. Men or women in grey suits. Sometimes in the city. Soon as everyone asked who the men and women were without protective gear escorting patients it seemed easy to figure out. There were 20,000 hospitals and every one of them had a different set of rules for careworkers. As soon as a new city declared a state of emergency the Overseers came. They didn’t wear bio-gear but followed the medical teams who wore Stage 4 Hazmat suits. The Overseers pointed out how to push a gurney, how to bag bedding in an orange bag. How to double bag the infected bedding, push out the air and twist-tie it together. How to carry the bag. What not to touch. What to touch. How to leave only the smallest trail of virus—an invisible microscopic trail of fibrillating tentacles, hungry for a host to slip inside pores and multiply until eyes bled red viscous tears and livers turned to mush. How to disinfect the ground, the bags, the suits, to take off the suits. First, have a trained spotter, then disinfect the outer gloves, spray the front and back of apron and suit with chlorine solution, remove outer gloves, wash gloved hands because you’re wearing a second pair, remove apron, wash gloved hands, remove goggles, wash gloved hands, remove hood, wash gloved hands, open suit, wash gloved hands, remove suit, wash gloved hands, remove mask, wash gloved hands, remove gloves, disinfect boots, wash bare hands...
The Overseers followed teams who pushed or walked the sick, who themselves were feverish and hollow-eyed, stumbling along inside yellow bubble suits (to distinguish from the white Hazmats) through public buildings, anywhere really. One of the mysterious Overseers often followed the Hazmat team member who was shooting chlorinated water onto their path through urban hell. These weren’t the Geheimnisse. Loo, nor anyone else had seen them—as if San Francisco were under enough trial for its sins. As Albert had told Loo—all of the disappearances of intellectuals were so far unrelated to the Overseers, Infection Control and any outbreaks of the disease. She knew she had to watch out for everyone.
Loo followed Eric and Albert’s path to the Chinese restaurant. They were the only patrons inside. This restaurant never closed but they did watch their doors. A salt-and-pepper-haired Chinese man with meaty fingers, who Loo thought must have tortured many in killing fields somewhere in the world, possibly right there in the backrooms of Chinatown, smoked a cigarette and seemed to ignore her. He was watching—Loo knew this—out the corners of his eyes. He would have pulled a gun most likely if she had even wiped the mist off her face. Would have told her to beat it. Probably in Chinese first. She appeared full-blooded in the dark. At night no one could sense the brooding dualism that was in her. Her American accent. Her disconnectedness from her grandmother’s homeland—her homeland. Why not just run away to Honk Kong? Become an artist there. Too many riots? Too much disaffectedness? She walked into the restaurant and ordered a hot bowl of soup and tea. If anything, she was happy to be out of the cold.
“I thought we were going to have to do a ‘21 Days Later’ after that train ride,” Eric laughed.
Albert pulled out the note, unfolded it.
The waiter brought Loo hot tea and poured her some. She sipped it and felt better.