Jin opened the bolt of the gun, saw the hole where the magazine
should have been then cursed again, in the tone of a crestfallen
child. "A piece of junk, like everything else they give me,"
he groused. The gun, like his uniform and nearly everything else
used by his small office in Shogo town, was a hand-me-down from
the Public Security Bureau.
"Illegal transportation of a corpse might work," Shan suggested.
"Even unlicensed disposal of the dead."
The constable brightened. "I arrest you for illegal transport of
"But not this day," Shan continued in a fatigued voice. The
mule nudged him, as if reminding him of their task. "Not this
Jin sighed, lowering the rifle. "Why not?"
Shan pulled a bottle of water from one of the packs, poured
some into his cupped hand for the mule to drink. "Because this
sherpa is from Nepal. Take us in and youll have to call Public
Security, who will begin asking how a foreigner got across the
border in your district without papers. A dead foreigner. Then
theres a whole other set of paperwork for international shipment
of bodies. Youll spend a week filling out papers, and you wont
have me to help if I am behind bars."
"Then," Shan said, "youll spend the rest of the season dealing
with all those who complain about how bad it is for business
to suddenly have policemen flooding the Westerners climbing
The constable worked his tongue in his cheek. "Better than
chasing this damned nag up and down the mountains."
The mule gave Shan another impatient nudge. It seemed to be
remembering, as Shan did, that they still had miles to go before
turning the body over to villagers from Tumkot, where Tenzins
kin waited for his body. "Then you wont do it," Shan said with a
tinge of shame, "because if you hold me up any longer I will not
return to work on time and in this county the man I work for is
the senior Tibetan member of the Party."
The constable sagged. He extracted a crumpled pack of cigarettes,
lit one as he settled onto a flat rock then studied Shan with
a suspicious air. "Theres a name for people like you on the other
side of the ranges," he observed as he exhaled a column of smoke.
"Untouchables. Disposers of the dead and other garbage. The
lowest caste of a low society. Youre Chinese. Youre educated.
Why do you let them do this to you?"
"I prefer to think of it as a sacred trust." Shan extracted two
apples from a pouch on the mules harness, offered one to the
horse, the other to his mule. As he did so he studied the equipment
hanging from Jins saddle, noting for the first time the
heavy ammunition belt tied around rain gear at the back of the
saddle, beside the portable radio Jin usually left switched off in
the field. "What particular war did you come up here to fight,
Jin frowned. "I left headquarters to check out a report of stolen
climbing equipment. Ropes and harnesses taken from the base
camp two days ago."
"I was stopped by a Public Security lieutenant with a truckload
of troops. A security alert has been declared, he announced.
Minister Wu, head of tourism, is traveling up the road to the base
camp today. So the lieutenant changed my orders."
"They didnt give you all that ammunition because of tourists."
Jin inhaled deeply on his cigarette, studying Shan, no doubt
weighing how much he needed Shan to navigate the bureaucracy.
He shrugged. "Since the road was going to be closed they
decided to do a fidelity raid, at Sarma gompa, one of the little
monasteries up the valley. Just one bus, with an escort of knobs,"
he explained, using the common slang for soldiers of the Public
Shan fought a shudder. After destroying nearly every monastery
in the region decades earlier, Beijing had allowed a few of the
surviving gompas to operate under the close supervision of the
Bureau of Religious Affairs. One of the many tools that Religious
Affairs used to keep the Tibetan monks closely leashed was forcing
them to sign loyalty oaths to Beijing. Individual monks who
refused lost their robes. But when entire groups refused to sign, it
was considered an act of organized resistance to the government.
They would be given one final chance to sign, then rounded up
for imprisonment in Tibets gulag. Shan closed his eyes a moment,
fighting a flood of wrenching memories from his own years of
imprisonment in one of those camps.
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