On the morning of the seventh day of their incarceration, they were found. Brig hobbled around the cell, with the boss man giving he and Tommy a wide berth. While the other prisoners set to work putting little tires on little toy cars, Brig and Tommy were ignored. One of the other men, seeing that Tommy and Brig weren’t being beaten, left his pile of tires and laid down near where Brig and Tommy sat. The cell boss warned the man to return to work, but the prisoner ignored him. The boss was on him in seconds, beating him as the man crawled back to his pile.
“Something’s happening,” Tommy informed Brig.
“Really? How do you know?”
“Dickhead over there is completely ignoring us. Maybe we’re getting out, and he’s nervous that we’ll get our revenge.”
“Who do you think it is? Tarantino?” They had discussed why they hadn’t heard from Tarantino. Tommy thought it was likely that Chang had caught up with T, who wouldn’t let himself be captured. If Chang had found him, he was probably dead.
“Maybe. But Chang is more likely. I’m surprised it took him this long to find us.”
“That’s not good for us, is it?”
“That depends on the way you look at it. For you, it’s probably good. They’ll keep you around until your father pays him, or doesn’t. Either way, you’ll be moved from this cage to another, but you’ll be more comfortable.”
“And you?” Brig asked.
“I can only hope for a quick death. Anything would be preferable to another week in this hellhole,” Tommy smiled. Brig wasn’t prepared to show Tommy any sympathy, but he couldn’t help but like the man. Maybe he had a case of Stockholm syndrome. He still believed Tommy had risked his life to save him, and that counted for something. Tommy had nursed him back from death and continued to protect him.
Just before lunch, a heavyset man in uniform entered the area and yelled at the cell boss to get the foreign prisoner and his companion ready for release.
“Go stand by the cell door,” the cell boss commanded Tommy.
Tommy helped Brig to his feet and shuffled over to the cell door as four men in plain clothes entered the area. The man in uniform led the group to Tommy and Brig and unlocked the cell door.
“Are you the Reluctant Scholar from Hong Kong?” one man asked Tommy.
“Who wants to know?” Tommy replied.
“A powerful and influential man is all that I know. Is this your foreign friend?”
Tommy looked at Brig, “Yeah. I’m pretty sure that’s him. He’s been beaten so badly. It’s hard to tell.” Tommy looked around for the cell boss. It took a second as he wasn’t in his usual spot, in fact, he had camouflaged himself in with the other men, pretending to work.
“Can he walk?” the man asked.
“Slowly, and with some help.”
“You are to come with us. We were told to kill you if you gave us any trouble.”
“We aren’t capable of giving you any trouble.”
As they made their way through the prison, and eventually into the prison’s lobby, a young guard approached the group and handed their guide, whom Brig thought of as the prison warden, a medium-sized duffel bag. The warden exchanged a few more words with the group of men that had come for them, smiled, and shook their hands. He handed the duffel bag to Brig’s new handlers and waved his hand toward the exit. They were free to go.
The five men emerged from the jail into the bright sunlight. A relatively new, but dirty, black Mercedes-Benz awaited them. Their new handlers were trying hard to appear relaxed and calm. Though he had seen no weapons, Brig assumed that these men had guns. Tommy sat in the back seat, between the group’s leader, and one of the others, while Brig took the front seat next to the driver. Brig moved slowly and eased himself into the passenger seat.
As in Shenzhen, the traffic was horrendous. Their aggressive driver forced his way into the stream of cars, overweight trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and people. The streets were narrow; the buildings packed tightly together, and squat. Most of the structures were only three or four stories tall.
The sight of anything besides the inside of the prison elated Brig, and he felt slightly better. He watched as the people on scooters weaved in and out of traffic and bicyclists made faster progress than the automobiles. Brig tried to roll down the window, but it was locked. He looked over at the driver who frowned, shaking his head from side to side. Brig turned his attention back to the street. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw somebody on a motorcycle he felt he recognized.
Who would Brig know in Xining? Before he could come up with a name, the motorcycle turned down a side road and was gone. “Tarantino!” The name finally came to him. Brig tried to turn his head to see if Tommy had also seen him, but the pain was too much.
“Tommy!” he yelled.
Brig worried that at least one of these thugs spoke English, but he had to take that risk. Tommy interrupted him before he could say anything more, “Calm down Brig. I know how you feel. It’s wonderful to be out of that place and see familiar people in the city.” Tommy emphasized the word familiar, and Brig understood.
Tommy was elbowed in the ribs and commanded to be silent. Without warning, the back window blew out, shattering glass throughout the inside of their transport. Brig reflexively turned to see what was happening, but the pain in his neck tore through him like a tempest. The bodyguard sitting to Tommy’s right slumped forward, the back of his head missing. Tommy, who had anticipated Tarantino’s attack, slammed his good hand into the other man’s throat, choking him. They struggled as Tommy maneuvered the man’s head away, helping the shooter get a clean shot. He felt the stitches ripping out of his healing finger, but his effort was rewarded when a second bullet ripped through the other guard‘s skull and his body went limp. Tommy released his grip and cradled his injured hand in the other. Their driver, sat stunned, watching as the action unfolded in his rearview. A third bullet shattered the driver‘s window, and the driver immediately collapsed onto the car’s steering wheel. The Mercedes accelerated into the car ahead of them, crashing to a stop.
“Brig! Get out of the car!” Tommy yelled from the back seat. The car’s airbags had deployed, and Brig struggled to push them down and out of his face. Tommy quickly but calmly exited the Mercedes and helped Brig get up and out. Tarantino maneuvered the motorcycle towards them and motioned Brig to get on the back.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” Tommy yelled. With a great deal of pain, Brig fell onto the back of the motorcycle. Brig watched as Tommy, who had had the presence of mind to grab the duffel bag, ran alongside them. Brig could hear sirens approaching.
Tarantino slowed his motorcycle as they approached an alleyway. Tarantino had parked another motorcycle nearby, and they waited as Tommy ambled up behind them. Brig wondered how Tommy would be able to drive a motorcycle with one hand, but the point became moot as a shot rang out. Brig heard a high-pitched buzz fly by his ear and watched in horror as Tarantino’s head pitched forward. Tarantino’s leg that had been holding Brig and the bike up buckled and the motorcycle tipped over onto its side. Brig had no strength to stop the bike’s fall. Brig hit the ground hard, his arms still draped over Tarantino’s shoulders. The pain was almost more than he could bear, and he fought hard to remain conscious.
Another shot was heard, then another, followed quickly by the thunk, thunk, of the bullets entering the body of a car parked nearby.
“Fuck me!” Tommy yelled in anger, ducking behind a parked car. He stared at the motionless body of his old friend but had no time to grieve as the enemy was closing in.
“Brig. Can you move?”
Brig tried to get out from under Tarantino’s body, and the bike, but he was trapped. Brig shook his head, “No. I’m stuck.”
“The men that are coming. They won’t hurt you.”
“They’re trying to kill me!”
“No. They’re shooting at me.” The shooting had stopped for the moment. Tommy risked a glance and peeked over the car he was using as a shield. He saw two men advancing.
“If you come any closer, I’ll kill him,” Tommy yelled out to his pursuers, but shook his head back and forth, assuring Brig that he would not kill him.
“If he dies, he dies,” one assailant answered back. “If he dies, you will surely die.”
“You know that I’m dead no matter what. But if he dies, I’m guessing that this will go hard on you and your friends. Chang isn’t kind to people that fail him.”
Tommy whispered to Brig, “Chang still thinks he can get money for you. If you want to live, you will need to convince your father to pay him.”
“Don’t move Scholar,” a voice from behind Tommy commanded. “I can easily put a bullet in your head without hitting the gwailo.”“Fuck your mother!” Tommy responded, and then to Brig, “Do what you have to do. Don’t worry about me, or anybody else. Convince your father to pay.”