Ms. Chen was waiting in the car when we got outside the karaoke bar. We all piled in the car.
Mr. Long sat in the passenger seat next to Ms. Chen. They were both speaking quickly and quietly into their cellphones. Jim had his arm around Ruby’s shoulders protectively, but it was obviously more for his benefit than for hers.
Ruby turned to me and murmured, “Mr. Long is a new agent. He has little experience, and he is not good with English. I have told him your sister’s phone number, and the government will have agents very good with technology to help find her. She will be safe, she will be okay. We will find her.”
I appreciated the information not only for its own sake, but because I saw Jim relax just a little bit as she was speaking. I nodded silently and leaned against my brother.
“Who wants to play cards?” my grandmother said loudly into my ear. Jim and I jumped, and Jim yelled, startled. “Why is Grandma in the car?” he whispered furiously at my parents. Shouldn’t we have sent her home?”
“Oops,” my dad said.
Suddenly, Mr. Long’s voice got much louder. He started gesturing at Ms. Chen. She hit the gas hard, and the van lurched around a corner. Everyone grabbed onto anything they could as the van accelerated.
“They found the signal from your sister’s phone,” Ruby said, even as she began to look a bit queasy. “We are going to follow it.”
“Maybe I should drive, dear, it’s getting dark out,” my grandmother said helpfully.
Some time after I had given up on being terrified for my life and reached a kind of zen-like state of acceptance of my impending death-by-Chinese-traffic, Ms. Chen pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. It was a pretty empty street with a lot of old, run-down looking buildings. One of the buildings was taller than the others and looked like it was in use. “They are inside that building,” snapped Ms. Chen, gesturing at the taller one. She was holding a gun. “You will stay with the car.”
“As long as with the car doesn’t mean in the car, I’m okay with that,” my dad said, “It’s cramped in here, and it smells like distilled eau de Bourbon Street.”
Ms. Chen and Mr. Long took off while everyone else settled on the ground or stood next to the car to wait. My grandmother must have picked up on the tension somehow, because she didn’t pull out her deck of cards.
Then I realized that I didn’t even see her. We were in the middle of a foreign country, my sister had been kidnapped, and I couldn’t find my grandmother.
“Mom? Where’s Grandma?” I asked, trying to sound calm.
My mom looked at me wordlessly for a moment.
We stood up simultaneously and craned our necks. She was old and slow, she couldn’t be far.
“Wasn’t that door closed a minute ago?” Jim asked, looking at the front door of the
building that held the secret agents and, hopefully, Margo.
“Jim, watch your sister,” my mother said. She ran inside the building, my dad following close behind.
“Ruby, watch my sister,” Jim said as the door closed behind my parents.
“No,” Ruby said. “I’m coming with you.”
“We’re all going,” I said. We all nodded at each other; there was no time to argue. We ran inside the building just in time to see my parents’ feet vanishing up the top of a staircase. We raced up, Jim in the lead and me behind, fast enough to see them racing around a corner. It was dim and industrial inside the building, and we were running on concrete floors. We finally caught up to our parents in a hallway and started racing alongside them.
“Jim, I, told you, to, watch, your, sister,” my mom panted.
“Save your breath,” Jim advised.
We came to a branch in the hall, and my mom veered left.
“Where are you going?” I asked. “How could she have gone this far?”
“Went, up, elevator, shaft,” my mom said. “Trying to guess, where elevator leads.”
“This way I think,” my dad said shortly, turning a corner. They both looked like they were wearing down, and honestly I was too. Fortunately that’s when we ended up in a large ceilingless atrium. Beneath us we saw Ms. Chen and Mr. Long and several of the men and women in suits. And—I gasped—Margo. She was being restrained by a large man who looked important. She looked scared and confused, but hopeful, as Ms. Chen and Mr. Long were having some sort of a heated discussion with the kidnappers. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it didn’t matter, because we arrived just in time to see Ms. Chen and Mr. Long be tackled to the floor by two men in suits.
Ruby was the only person with the presence of mind to take out her phone and start trying to call people. I probably should have been dialing numbers too, but I didn’t know the emergency number in China and I was trying to think of a way to signal to Margo that we were here without any of the kidnappers noticing.
Margo’s eyes widened in terror, and she wasn’t looking at the fight. I looked to see what had frightened her. I guess I thought it would be some kind of weapon or torture device. I didn’t expect it to be my grandmother.
She had just wandered into the room, and with everyone focused on the brawl taking place in the center of the room, no one had noticed her yet. But Margo noticed her, and she noticed Margo. From across the room we saw a look of righteous fury cross her wrinkly old face. She began to totter determinedly towards the large man and Margo.
“Oh, no,” my mother whispered. I shared her sentiments exactly.
“Lene,” my dad hissed. “Lene, your mom is crazy! Do something!”
But my grandmother got to her destination before my mom could respond.
“Young man,” she said, even as Margo was shaking her head frantically, “just what do you think you’re doing with my granddaughter?”
He didn’t even notice her, too busy watching his henchpeople beat up on government agents. She tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to face her, surprised. I saw my mom put her face in her hands. The kidnapper’s face was quickly turning from surprise to anger, and I could tell that his next action wouldn’t be to apologize and offer my grandmother tea biscuits.
However, before he got the chance to do anything, my grandma reared back and then smashed her huge, black, old lady purse into the side of his head. It connected with a metallic thud, and he fell to the ground. Some of his followers had noticed the commotion and were now making their way over, abandoning their previous fights. As the first man approached her, he started to reach for her purse in an effort to neutralize the threat.
“You get your filthy hands away from my purse!” My grandma shrieked, catching him with it under the jaw.
He went down like a sack of bricks, and a group of two women and a man attempted to surround my flailing, 93-pound grandmother. She spun around, surprisingly quickly for a woman her age, and managed to hit all three of them in the guts. Margo sprang to action and kneed the large man restraining her directly in the family jewels. The shock that had paralyzed us was now gone, and the Snead family charged into battle.
“For Valhalla!” My dad screamed, before tripping and falling flat on his face.
“For Valhalla!” The rest of us chorused, running to Margo and picking up anything that seemed like a viable weapon on the way.
My mom still had the gun she took earlier, although she was using it to inflict blunt force head trauma instead of actually shooting it like a normal person. Ruby had gotten ahold of Margo’s selfie stick and was performing some sort of wicked selfie-stick-jutsu, while Jim had found a length of chain somewhere and was swinging it around like a flail. I picked up a two-by-four and started whacking. At one point, I think I saw Margo land a flying kick.
After we joined the battle, the tides quickly turned. We may not have been the best fighters, but we sure as hell divided the henchpeople’s attention. While we were distracting them, Ms. Chen and Mr. Long must have called for reinforcements—or maybe they were responding to Ruby’s distress call, who knows—and before too long the room was swarming with secret agents. My family couldn’t really tell the agents apart from the kidnappers, and we all gradually dropped out of the fight and drifted to the perimeter of the room. Ruby took out her cell phone again and began making frantic phone calls. When anyone came too close, my mother brained them with the gun.
Soon all of the kidnappers were rounded up and in handcuffs.
When all of the kidnappers were neutralized, Ms. Chen approached our family. Ruby hung up the phone and after talking to Ms. Chen for a while in Mandarin, she turned to us. “Ms. Chen is a government agent,” she said. “We did not know that when we hired her.”
“Doesn’t really surprise me,” I said, shrugging.
“That was intense! Look at this sweet footage I got.” Margo pulled out her phone. “This is going on Youtube.”
“No it isn’t,” Ms. Chen said, confiscating the phone.
“Wait,” my father said. “If you were a secret agent, why were you posing as our family’s tour guide?”
“Because somehow, in all your incompetence, you managed to intercept a flash drive containing plans for an attack on the government,” Ms. Chen said. “I had to follow you for your own protection.”
“If you’re a secret agent, why didn’t you steal the suitcase back?” I asked.
“Oh, do not worry,” Ms. Chen said. “I have already searched it. Thoroughly. We have the flash drive. But what I still do not understand is this.” She turned to my father. “When your suitcase was stolen, why did you not make a report?”
My father shrugged. “It seemed more adventurous just to roll with the punches?”
“Great job, dad,” Margo said. “Now the Chinese government thinks we’re collaborating with terrorists.”
“Part of my assignment was to figure out if that was the case,” Ms. Chen said. “I told them that you were not smart enough.” She was not smiling.
“Haha!” my father said. “Classic Ms. Chen.”
“Please leave the country,” Ms. Chen said.
It turned out she wasn’t kidding. The Chinese government was really nice about everything—they said that our security was at risk—but we were all pretty sure they still hadn’t forgiven my father for the terra cotta warrior incident. The fact that we had intercepted a terrorist flash drive was kind of the last straw. I thought maybe we’d been helping, but Ruby told me that actually Ms. Chen’s team had intended to switch out the suitcase in the airport—and because my father’s suitcase looked exactly the same, they’d taken the wrong one. So we’d really just succeeded in making everyone’s life more difficult, and then breaking their pottery.
Ms. Chen brought our bags to us and escorted us to the airport.
“Thank you for everything,” my mother told her before we entered security. “I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t been there. We’ll invite you to the wedding!”
“Here is some advice,” Ms. Chen said. “Have the wedding somewhere that is not China.”
“Are we… are we not allowed in the country?” my mother asked.
“You are welcome to visit whenever you want… but please do not bring your husband,” Ms. Chen said. “Have your son’s wedding in France. I hear France is lovely.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” my father said. “When we get home, we are never leaving the country again.”
That’s how my father ended up on China’s no-fly list. Other than that, I’d say it was a pretty good trip.