Tommy handed Brig a train ticket but kept his passport. Brig didn’t even think to object, preferring to stay in his zombie-state. They entered an electronic turnstile that opened when they fed it their ticket. They then rode an escalator that carried them down to a platform where a sleek, silver, bullet train awaited. Brig had imagined an old steam-powered locomotive with passengers hanging out of the windows and riding on top with small farm animals. China was full of surprises.
Brig and Tommy leisurely entered car number 4, four sections down from the engine, with a “First Class” designation. The contrast from the train station environment they had just battled through, and the car they had entered, could not have been greater. Gone were the crowds, the noise, the heat, and the noxious odors. This was tranquility and comfort. The few people they shared car number 4 with were well dressed and quiet, except for one narcissist who was watching a video on his phone without using his headphones. Brig and Tommy were the rabble and the only two that looked unworthy of their first class passage.
They placed their bags in the luggage rack above their seats, which were large, plush, and faux leather. Brig sighed heavily as he fell exhausted into the window seat. He pushed a button to recline. Brig looked over at Tommy, who was moving his hand gingerly and wincing in obvious pain.
“Does your hand hurt?” Brig asked. Tommy shrugged, suggesting yes, but that he was baring it.
“Here.” Brig reached into his pocket and pulled out the small bag of painkillers that Tommy had given him the night before. Brig was surprised and apprehensive when he saw that there were only seven pills left, but it was his nature and habit to share his drugs with his friends.
“No thanks. I have my own. But you better slow down and ration what you have left. I don’t know when we’ll have a chance to get more.”
Brig reached in and grabbed two pills, popped them in his mouth, and swallowed, eagerly awaiting the sleepy warmth that his body craved. He had always been able to get more, and the concept of rationing was foreign to him.
“I really need to get more of these as soon as possible, or it’s going to get ugly.”
“Did you not hear me?” Tommy asked incredulously. “We have men hunting us who are as likely as not to kill us and you’re worried about getting high?”
Brig paused, as if to think, then confirmed with a definitive “Yes.” Tommy shook his head in disbelief.
Their train left Shenzhen at precisely 11 p.m. Beijing Time. No chug. No lurch. Just a smooth, gradual pulling away from the station. The only noise the train made was a comforting middle-pitched electric hum. Within minutes Brig was asleep, snoring slightly with his mouth ajar. Tommy wanted to sleep, too, but pulled out his phone to see if there were any updates from Hong Kong or Tarantino. A message from T said only “No sign. I’ll be on the next train,” meaning he didn’t think Tommy was followed and that he would take the next available train out. The next few messages were from the woman that had betrayed him earlier. “Be there in an hour,” read the first message, followed by: “Don’t start the party without me. ;-),” and last, “15 minutes.” Tommy had considered the woman a close friend he had known for years, but apparently she had been more afraid of what Chang would do to her if he found out she was helping Tommy. Tommy should’ve known better. Having trusted anybody whose allegiance was suspect was stupid. He would have to be more careful.
He reread the message he had received from Johnny earlier in the evening. “Message sent. No response yet.” Tommy calculated that the email and picture had been sent around 9 or 10 a.m., which would have made it around 6 p.m. in the U.S. Brig’s father must have received the email by now, Tommy determined. Noticing that his phone battery was at 12%, Tommy reached into his coat pocket for the recharge cord. His seat had a console he and Brig shared. The console had several electrical outlets, and he plugged his phone into one. The phone dinged and the lightning bolt indicator popped up, showing that his cell phone was successfully taking the charge. Tommy’s hand throbbed painfully. He reached into his pocket and popped two of his painkillers and an antibiotic. He was still slightly drunk from earlier and worried that the pills would knock him out. He had to be alert, but he also needed his sleep. He guessed that the next few days would be intense and he needed to be sharp. He drifted off as the train approached their first of many stops.