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Our Arrival at the Cottage (Caitlin’s Journal, 4)

CD Knowles 1 month ago

“I want to start with our arrival at the cottage.”

Editor’s note: This is a developing story. Below you’ll find the fourth journal entry that Caitlin Wang, our advice columnist who went missing in mid-February, wrote after she and her husband, Dr. Li Wang (from UT’s virology lab), fled Austin. A lot of stuff has happened since this journal was written. For starters, after an arduous search, we tracked Caitlin down and met with her in person—she is currently in hiding from those she suspects of kidnapping her husband. We have her journal which she has expressly asked us to publish. (A reminder to those who are after her—the journal is not located in either Nicole’s or Randi’s home, we’ve hidden it well, so please don’t bother searching.) What we have made public from the journal so far is that Dr. Wang’s sister was researching coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab in China, but she disappeared under suspicious circumstances after having mailed highly classified material regarding her research to Dr. Wang here in Austin. When he received news of her disappearance from his niece (who lives in China) in February, Dr. Wang packed up his lab and some supplies, and he and Caitlin set out to live off the grid.

***

March 30, 2020

I write when I can, so I’m still trying to catch up to current time. We’ve been in this cottage — or cabin or bungalow, whatever you want to call it — for six weeks now and the days move quickly, filled with cooking, gardening (thank god I had the sense to bring my big floppy hat so that I can be out in the sun), walks in the woods, and, of course, my attempts to continue work on a mystery novel I’d started last January — in longhand since I don’t have use of a computer. (The fact that Li has a computer to work on and I don’t has caused something of a rift between us.)

I want to start with our arrival at the cottage. We’d driven three plus hours through the dark to get here. Li made me wait in the truck while he took a flashlight and got out to have a look at the place. All I could see in the pitch black were the outline of trees and a sky crammed with stars. According to Li, the cottage belonged to a friend of a friend, someone very distant who, Li assured me, believes we are simply an older couple who want to spend time in the country. The owner doesn’t even know our real name. As I watched, some lights went on in the cottage, making it look a little sinister, like a jack-o’-lantern with squinty eyes and a black square mouth. I got out of the truck and went in.

To my surprise, it was charming. Very small with a narrow galley kitchen, a tiny but squeaky clean bathroom, a loft bedroom (Li and I would be climbing up and down a ladder all night) and a living area that would give Li enough space to set up his lab. Thank god there was a working TV. We spent that first night unloading the truck, attempting to put things away, and checking the locks on doors and windows. In the morning we woke to bright sunlight and discovered the cottage was in a clearing surrounded by a beautiful orchard of fruit trees. Situated at the end of a long dirt road five or six miles outside the tiny Hill Country town of Doss, TX (population 225), it was pretty damn remote. The first thing I did was sit Li down and demand to know what the hell was going on and why he’d brought us here.

All he’d told me so far was that we were in danger because of the disappearance of his sister Mei, and that he’d give me specific facts as soon as we were in a position of relative safety. Well, here we were in the middle of nowhere, so I made some coffee, heated up some bagels, and waited, drilling my eyes into him. “Okay, Kitty,” he said with a sigh. “Here’s the story.”

Mei had been working under a woman in the Wuhan lab who specialized in bat viruses. According to Mei, the woman, whose name was Shi Zhengli, had been researching these Corona viruses since 2017, but sometime in the fall of 2019 people in the lab got careless and some vials of bat urine and blood were splashed over several scientists. The researchers realized soon after that they’d become infected with what later became known as Covid-19. One of them, Huang Yan Ling, died. (She was patient zero though the Chinese government has denied that, removing official photos of her and erasing all connected data.) This was the beginning of the spread of the disease. Mei and the other researchers quickly quarantined themselves, though, unless the government stepped in, it was really too late. By then Mei realized that the virus she’d been working on, assessing its transmissibility to humans and attempting to develop a vaccine to stop its potential spread, had morphed into something far more deadly. Someone, she deduced, had tweaked it so that the pathogen now had the characteristics of a bioweapon. Even though she was in quarantine, she managed remotely to break into the lab’s database, downloading everything she could onto an external hard drive which she hid in a key fob and sent to Li in Austin.

“You have that key fob here?” I asked in a frantic voice.

“Yes,” replied Li. It’s with the keys to the truck. I plan to complete Mei’s work on a vaccine while we’re here in the country. But what you have to know,” he said, putting down his coffee cup with a trembling hand, “is that the Chinese developed the virus intentionally. They want it to infect the entire world so that they can gain dominance while other nations are shut down. And that’s why they want a vaccine — to protect their own people after enough have died to make the government seem innocent.”

“And that’s why we’re here?” I asked, beginning to feel even more angry and frightened. I love my husband, but do I really want to be sequestered in a cramped cottage in the middle of nowhere while he works on a dangerous pathogen?

***

We’ll post another journal entry on Wednesday. To start at the beginning of this story, when we first announced that our advice columnist, C.D. Knowles (now confirmed to be Caitlin Wang), had gone missing, please click here. This will be an ongoing publication as we continue to sift through her journal and post the entries that explain everything.

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