James pulled his jeep into the porte-cochere of the Shigatse Hotel. Brig was giving James the silent treatment. A young boy, dressed in traditional Tibetan clothing, ran up to the vehicle as James stepped out. The boy crossed his arms in front of his chest and stuck his tongue out at James. James returned the gesture, smiled at the boy, and threw him the keys to his jeep. They exchanged Tibetan pleasantries and high-fived. Brig slid out of the passenger seat, asking James what had just happened. “It’s a traditional Tibetan way of saying ‘Hello.’” James explained. “Legend has it that in ancient times there lived a cruel Tibetan king named Lang Darma, who had a long black tongue. Buddhists who believe in reincarnation stick out their tongues as a greeting to show that they’re not the reincarnation of Lang Darma. It’s like us shaking hands, Eskimos rubbing noses, or Europeans kissing.”
“Or the French who stick their tongues out when they kiss,” Brig added, forgetting he was mad at James.
“That’s Nanchang Wangchuk. Great kid. If you want to get on his good side, tell him how much you love the Los Angeles Lakers.” The NBA was becoming huge in China, particularly with younger Chinese men. All Tier 1 cities in China had a professional team, some that even featured ex-NBA stars.
“He can’t be that great if he likes the Lakers. The Lakers suck! I’m a Jazz fan.”
“No, sorry? I’m talking about basketball, not music,” James said genuinely.
“No shit Sherlock,” Brig laughed. “The Utah Jazz are a basketball team.”
“I don’t follow basketball. But if you want to talk about a real man’s sport, we can talk about rugby and the All Blacks.” Rugby was New Zealand’s national sport, and the All Blacks were their national team, a team that had dominated rugby for over a century.
“Wow! Are all New Zealanders as racist as you are?” Brig jokingly attacked.
“No! It’s a rugby team.” James explained.
“Relax, Mr. Dundee. I’ve heard of the All Blacks.”
Immediately after checking in, Brig and James made their way to the hotel’s restaurant which served both Chinese and Western food. James offered to take Brig to a local restaurant serving traditional Tibetan food, but Brig begged off, claiming he wanted to eat something he could recognize. As they ate, James entertained Brig with stories of some of his previous clients. James claimed to have met Brad Pitt during the filming of “Seven Years in Tibet” and who had stayed in the very same hotel.
“He may have eaten dinner at this table.”
“No way.” Brig was skeptical. “No offense, but Brad would never have stayed in this dump. I don’t know him personally, but I’m guessing he’s more of a Shangri-La or Four Seasons kinda guy.”
“Really bro? In Shigatse? Did you see any of those hotels?”
“Well no. I figured you’re giving me the Tibetan Adventures value package tour.”
James laughed out loud. “This isn’t a tour. It’s two guys traveling together. One of them just knows more about the area than the other. For example, did you know there are hotels in Shigatse that won’t allow foreigners to stay in their hotel?”
“They can do that?”
“I knew that would be hard for your American head to get around,” James chuckled. “Tibet. Shigatse. Lhasa, less so. It’s still all kinda’ third world around here, and Tibetans do not trust foreigners. Chinese or otherwise. Being colonized does that to some people.”
“Crappy business model though. It’s hard for me to imagine the locals going on a vacation.”
“Well, we’re not talking about American hotels, are we. These are more like hostels. You’ll see. The place we’ll be staying at in Rongbuk is a good example.”
“So you’re saying they don’t have a heated pool?”
“We’ll be lucky to get a heated room.” James glanced down at his phone, “Do you know somebody named Ho Gwok Wai?”
The name sounded familiar. “Maybe. Should I?” Brig asked.
“A friend of mine at the Shangri-la says he’s looking for you.”
It was Tommy! “He’s in Lhasa? Now?”
“No,” James continued to read casually through the rest of the email. “He should be here by now.”
“Here?” Brig screamed. James looked up from his phone, now aware of Brig’s panic. “In Shigatse? At this hotel?”
“Calm down, bro!” James held his hands up to Brig, waving him back down into his seat. Some of the other diners looked over. “Take it easy. No. He’s not here. Not in this hotel.” Brig sat back down, temporarily placated. “My friend sent him to a different hotel. The Qomo Langzhang.”
“Down the road a block or two. We passed it on the way.”
“Shit! We’ve got to get out of here now.” Brig got up from the table.
“Brig. Sit down.” Brig hesitated. “Please. Sit.” Brig did so. “We can’t leave until daylight. Period,” James stated with authority. “It’s nighttime. It’s a hundred below zero, and a snowstorm is getting ready to hit the area any minute now if it isn’t here already. Now. Sit down and tell me who this guy is.”
Brig took a deep breath and considered how much he should say. “Do you remember how beat up I looked when you first saw me in Lhasa?” Brig began.
James nodded that he did.
“He did that. Or, at least, he was more or less responsible for it.” Brig corrected. “He’s a man I met in Hong Kong that tricked me into traveling with him. He stole my money and a bunch of other stuff, and I really don’t want to see him.”
“Why’s he following you? Is he dangerous?”
“Fuck no! I’m surprised he’s able to walk. He was in a coma the last time I saw him.”
“Bro. You should go to the police.”
“No. That is not fucking happening. I’m not a big fan of China’s police force.”
“So what does he want with you?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. Whatever he wants, it can’t be good.”
“Maybe he wants his money back,” James insinuated. “That’s an awful lot of cash you’ve been walking around with.”
Brig was stunned by the implication. “You think I stole money from him?” Brig asked indignantly.
“Yeahnah. But, you have the money. He’s chasing you. And you won’t go to the police.”
“So that’s what you think? That I’ve been lying to you this whole time? You think I’m lying to you now?”
“Bro. I don’t know what to believe. But I went on the trip because I worried about you. This trip is risky enough as it is, but having some bloke chasing us around adds a wrinkle, yeah?”
“I didn’t even want you to come. Do you remember that? I all but told you to fuck off! Now what am I going to do?”
“I think you did tell me to fuck off.”
“Is it money? Is it money you want? I was planning on giving you what I had left when I got to Everest, but I’ll give it to you now.” Brig reached into his backpack. He pulled out what looked to James like a stack of $20.
“Brig, stop,” James whispered, hoping not to draw any more attention.
“I’ve got $15,000,” Brig said as he reached into his bag for another stack.
“Brig, stop it!” James demanded, still trying to be quiet but needing Brig to understand. “Put that away for God’s sake!”
Brig returned the cash to where it had come from, but only after a few of their fellow diners had a good look at the money.
“You just showed everyone in the room that you’re carrying the equivalent of what the average Tibetan will earn in a lifetime,” James said dramatically for effect. “Who are you, and why are you here?”
“Everything I’ve told you is true. I can see why you might not believe me, but I need you to.” Brig thought of another line of reason that might help James to believe him. “Have you ever heard of Brigham Young International?”
“Look it up on your phone.” As James searched, Brig continued, “My father is a wealthy man. As his firstborn son, I was his heir.”
“Was?” James asked as he waited for the results to load in his browser.
“We got into an argument and he disinherited me. I took the break as an opportunity to fulfill my lifelong dream of climbing Everest. So here I am.”
“Crikey dick!” James had just found the Brigham Young International home page. “This is you? This is your family?”
“I hope that means you believe me.”
“Yeahnah. Course I believe you. At least, I believe it’s your money. But, come on, bro. You don’t know why this man is following you?”
“I don’t. I guess he’s after the money. He knows I have it, and at one point I told him I would pay him if he helped me reach Everest. But that was before I found out he had already stolen it from me.”
“That’s how he tracked you to Lhasa,” James reasoned. “How did you get your money back?”
“That’s another long story, and we’re both tired. Why don’t we save that for the ride tomorrow, assuming you’re still interested in the job?”
“For $15,000 I’ll carry you to Everest!”