JAKE STRIKER WAS tall and Chandaa had always told him he was incredibly handsome. Because of his intimate connection with the mysterious Lamasery, he was able to obtain the necessary paperwork and travel to Ulan Bator without any difficulty. But he did have a problem in locating Chandaa’s aunt and uncle’s ger. Every ger in the district looked the same, at least to an outsider. He spent over an hour in the dusty taxi trying to locate their ger. The white gers looked like giant mushrooms that had sprouted on the outskirts of Ulan Bator. The round gers were covered with white canvas, with layers of felt under the canvas. As the temperature dropped, another layer of felt was added.
While the taxi driver looked for the relative’s ger, Jake had time to reflect on how he got to Mongolia the first time. The aged Chang-Jai Lama had travelled to Southern California for open-heart surgery. He died during the operation and at the exact moment of his death, a boy child was born in the same hospital. The Chang-Jai lamas believed in transmigration of the soul, and the lamas that had accompanied the Grand Lama firmly believed that their leader had been reborn at the instant of his death. The baby’s mother was the thrice-married daughter of a local mobster. The baby boy had disappeared from the hospital and the gangster grandfather had hired Jake’s private investigation firm to find his grandson.
The unusual quest had taken him to Mongolia, where he met Chandaa, and together they had been able to go to the frontier and finally locate the isolated Ulan Jinga Valley and mysterious Chang-Jai Lamasery. Jake became close friends with the Grand Regent and his principal advisor, and ultimately decided that the baby boy would be better off as the future leader of a great religious organization, rather than the grandson of a Los Angeles gangster. This decision made dangerous enemies and powerful friends. The taxi driver finally located the ger Jake was looking for, pulling him from his woolgathering.
He did not need to tell Chandaa’s relatives the nature of his visit, his eyes conveyed the sorrow. They sent for a cousin who spoke English and Jake related the details of Chandaa’s death. They refused to let him stay in a hotel, and he ate mutton stew and slept in a ger for the first time since he and Chandaa had left for the United States.
The following morning he told Chandaa’s aunt and uncle that he needed to locate the driver and his son that had taken them south to Jirgalangtu. The aunt was able to put him in touch with the driver, a cousin. Like Chandaa’s aunt and uncle, the driver and his son were saddened by the news of her death. Because of Jake’s visit to the Lamasery, the driver had a lucrative contract, transporting goods and fuel to Jirgalangtu. The driver, whose name was Djikdjide, informed him that he was scheduled to transport a load a fuel in two days to Jirgalangtu. Once Jake had made known his request to be taken to Chandaa’s parents, so he could personally tell them about her death, the driver agreed to leave a day early and take Jake to her parent’s ger.
Both the driver and his son knew that Jake held a special place in the heart of the Lamasery’s Grand Regent. He was the only member of their initial party, who was not a member of the faith, that had been allowed to leave the secretive valley. They also knew that he had the ear of Lama Namsray, an influential advisor to the Grand Regent, and the second most powerful lama in the valley. Of those in their original caravan, Jake was the only person who had held the future Grand Lama in his arms.
The driver and his son left the following morning with a full load of aviation fuel in the bed of the sturdy Russian Kamaz truck. The fuel was stored in special ten-gallon containers, for easier transport by the packhorses of Deliger’s father and his cousin Chakhun. Deliger’s father would provide the packhorses that would carry the fuel to the caravan clearing and offload at the entrance to the enigmatic Ulan Jinga Valley. From there, Lamasery soldiers would provide protection for the valley packhorses that would transport the fuel through the narrow entrance into the valley and to the Lower Kingdom.
The truck was rigged for transport, not for Jake’s comfort. He had sheepskin bundles to sit on in the rear of the truck, to cushion the ride, but no other creature comforts. He had purchased clothing for the frontier and had a lantern for light. Because of the nature of the cargo, the rear flap needed to remain down, at least until they were some distance from the capital.
As with Jake’s first journey south to Jirgalangtu, the driver stopped at midnight to take fuel from the fifty gallon drum in the rear of the truck. This gave Jake a chance to stretch his legs while the driver and his son relieved themselves. Once they returned from the darkness, Jake offered to drive and give them a break. The wind howled like an angry black witch and a billion stars looked down on them from the velvety night sky. All three leaned into the wind, the other two more prepared for the vicious wind than Jake.
The driver said, “You no drive. You are guest.” He pointed to the rear of the truck.