THE NOODLE HOUSE was full of people. A young waitress, looking Vietnamese, piloted them into an inner room that had only two tables in it. She asked Sam with a knowing smile, “What would you like today?”

“Ask my friends first,” Sam said.

“Sure.” She turned to Bao. “What will you have?”

“Shogun Noodle.”

Nan ordered the same; not having eaten the Japanese noodle before, he wanted to try it. Dick and Sam chose Pad Thai.

While waiting for their food, they talked about religion. Sam said he knew the Dalai Lama personally, and in fact his master was a distant cousin of His Holiness. “Do you practice Buddhism?” Nan asked him.

“I meditate every day.”

“We go to Ann Arbor every fall,” Dick put in.

“Why?” Bao asked.

Sam smiled mysteriously. “My master’s temple is there, so we go there to pray every year.”

“We also listen to our master preach,” added Dick.

The noodle and the Pad Thai came, giving off a spicy scent. Nan was fascinated by their involvement with the Buddhists. He spooned a shrimp out of the soup and took a bite. It tasted fresh but a bit rubbery. He asked Sam, “Why do you study Buddhism?”

“It can calm me down. It also helps my constipation.”

Nan burst out laughing, while Bao looked bewildered. Dick said, “It can also enlighten the mind.”

“Does your master impose any restriction on your life?” asked Nan.

“No, we’re free,” Sam said. “You can do anything in our branch of Buddhism. Drugs, sex, marriage, alcohol, you name it, anything but violence.”

“We’re a radical group,” Dick said, “so lots of people are against us.”

“I don’t give a fuck about what they think of us.” Sam thrust a bundle of rice noodles into his mouth. “Do you know when Tibet will be open to tourists?” he asked Nan.

“I have no idea.”

“I hope I can go there next year. I’ve been trying to get permission from the Chinese consulate, but every time those bureaucrats turn me down.”

“You must be on their list,” Nan said.

“I’m a crazy Jew, on every government’s list.”

“Including zer U.S.?”

“You bet. My FBI file must be able to fill a whole cart. I’m an enemy of authorities.”

Bao broke in, “If you go to China, you know what happen?”

“I know, some undercover agent will put a bullet into the back of my head and the government will claim I committed suicide.”

They all cracked up. When lunch was over, Sam paid for everyone. “I make more than the three of you put together,” he said, refusing to go Dutch.

It was getting cloudier and looked like rain. As they were saying good-bye at a street corner, Sam embraced Nan and gave him a loud smack on the cheek. Nan was surprised and a little embarrassed. Dick Harrison wrote down his phone number for Nan and said he might send along some poems too. They promised to see each other again.

Nan and Bao headed for the subway station. “Sam is really fond of you,” Bao said, and squinted at Nan.

“Come now, I’m not gay. I’m drawn to women, can’t stop thinking about them.”

Despite that unsettling kiss, Nan was quite moved by their meeting with Sam Fisher, in whom he had seen the free spirit of a poet who wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody, a complete individual. Nan hadn’t read Sam’s poetry, but he liked his personality. If he were gay, he wouldn’t have minded seeing Sam more often.

Bao told him more about Min Niu. Min had been an English major at Hunan Normal University. He wrote to Sam to express his admiration for his poetry, and then a relationship developed between them through correspondence. As his sponsor in the United States, Sam helped him get his visa and even paid tuition for him at NYU. Min came and lived with Sam, working as the manager of his home. In fact, he also cooked for Sam and sometimes served as his secretary. Bao had once eaten dinner in Sam’s apartment, and Min had made four dishes and a large bowl of soup within an hour. And everything he cooked that evening was delicious. Sam also paid Min a decent salary.

Nan was impressed, saying, “What a lucky fellow Min Niu is.”

“I think you can replace him if you want.” Bao winked at Nan.

“No, I’m dying to work for a pretty woman poet as famous as Sam Fisher. Do you happen to know anyone?”

“What makes you think I’ll provide the information gratis?”

They both laughed. An old woman walking by turned to look at them. They stopped laughing and went on chatting about the poetry world in New York.