The Death Zone – Chapter 11.3

As Tommy was finishing his lunch, Brig and James were taking in the picturesque Tibetan Plateau. James turned out to be an excellent guide, and the views were stunning, though Brig seemed only interested in reaching Everest and was eager to keep going. James insisted that since he was in the area, Brig should try to enjoy the experience.

Snow covered the landscape, and despite the day’s clear weather, their jeep shared the road with few other vehicles. They were traveling southwest on the Friendship Highway which followed the course of the Lhasa River. They stopped for lunch atop the Gampala Pass which towered over the emerald waters of Yamdrok Lake. It was here that Brig got his first glimpse of a Himalayan mountain peak. James explained that this was Mount Nyenchen Tanghla, and its summit was over 7000 meters above sea level, making it the tallest mountain in the Transhimalayan mountain range. The Himalayas and Everest stood just beyond, further South and West of where they stood. Back on the road, the pair continued their journey through the Yarlung Valley.

“Jesus Christ! Could you go any slower?” Brig relentlessly criticized James’ conservative driving technique.

“The roads are bloody icy! Better we get there late than not at all. Yea?”

“You drive like Miss Daisy!”

“Did you see that movie, eh?” James took his eyes off the road long enough to shoot Brig an incredulous look.

“What movie?”

“Driving Miss Daisy. The film you’re going on about.”

“Hell no! I think it was a silent film? Miss Daisy sounds old. Old people drive slow. You drive slow. Hence, James is Miss Daisy. Get it?”

“The movie is called ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ So the movie must be about somebody who drove Miss Daisy. If anybody’s Miss Daisy, it’s you.”

“Whatever, man. You drive slow.”

“Safety first,” James chirped.

They made a few more stops for gas and were making excellent time considering the road conditions.

In the late afternoon, Brig and James entered Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest city. James informed Brig that they would be stopping here for the night. Brig rejected the idea as if he were a paying customer, trying to convince James to continue.

“C’mon driver,” Brig urged. “Let’s keep rollin’!”

“Brig. I’m knackered. I’ve been doing all the driving.”

“I’ll drive.”

“Not even, bro’. This jeep is my livelihood.”

“Come on. Let’s keep going. We’ll stop at the next city.” Brig pleaded.

“There is no next city. The next place we might find a hotel is at least a three-hour drive, and that’s when the roads are dry, and it’s hardly even a village.”

“A village? That sounds exciting. I’ve never stayed in a village before,” Brig said with false enthusiasm.

“What’s your hurry?” James asked, “Everest isn’t going anywhere.”

“I don’t know. I just want to get there.”

“We’ll get there. If not tomorrow, then Sunday.”

“No. We’ll get there tomorrow,” Brig demanded.

“No. We’ll get there when we get there,” James volleyed back. “I don’t think you understand how dangerous it is to be out here, driving at this time of the year, and especially at night. The temperature falls 30 degrees after the sun goes down so good luck if your car breaks down or you slip off the road.” Brig’s expression told James that he understood, but he wasn’t happy about it. “Let’s have a nice meal, check into a hotel, wake up early, and be on our way. Sound good?”

Brig grudgingly agreed.

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The Death Zone – Chapter 11.4

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.”

“Where’s that?”

“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?”

“Nah. Never.”

“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?”

Brig nodded.

“Sweet as!”

“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!”

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The Death Zone – Chapter 11.2

Tommy arrived at the Lhasa Shangri-la Hotel just before noon. According to the woman working the front desk, Brig had checked out at 6:37 a.m. She didn’t know where he had departed for but suggested that Tommy speak with the doorman. The doorman turned out to be a wealth of information once Tommy had figured out how to motivate him. Tommy learned that Brig was no longer traveling by himself, that he and his companion were pointed west, toward Everest, when they left, and if they had gone west their next stop would probably be Shigatse, the last city between Lhasa and EBC.

Seeing Tommy’s desperation to intercept his friend, the doorman suggested he take the Lhasa to Shigatse railway. The train was safer, cheaper, and faster than hiring a driver, and for a few more yuan, the doorman would help Tommy reserve a seat on the next train which would depart Lhasa at 3:20 pm. Tommy gladly paid the man.

Any idea where they might stay in Shigatse?” Tommy asked.

Well, there are a lot of hotels in Shigatse,” the doorman mused in a tone that suggested that he knew more, but it came at a price.

Oh, for the love of Buddha!” Tommy pulled a few more renminbi from his money clip and handed them forcefully to the beaming doorman. Tommy wasn’t really upset or even slightly irritated. Information had a value, and the doorman was the broker.

“There are a lot of hotels in Shigatse, but I’m sure I heard one of them say something about the Qomo Langzhong Hotel. It’s where the rich foreigners stay in Shigatse.”

“Why is that?”

“Some travel website ranked it five stars. I’ve never been there, but I understand it has an Italian restaurant that the foreign devils like and a bartender that speaks English and knows how to mix drinks.”

“That sounds about right,”

“It’s a beacon for Westerners. He’ll be there.”

“And if he’s not, do I get my money back?”


Tommy asked the doorman to have a taxi waiting for him at 2 p.m., thanked him, and returned to the hotel. He was hungry, and since he had more than an hour to kill, he decided he’d give the hotel cafe’s local noodles a try.

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The Death Zone – Chapter 11.1

Early Friday morning James Wilson rolled up to the Lhasa Shangri-La in his 4WD Jeep Wrangler. The day was crystal clear and bitter cold. James’ greeting to the doorman took physical form as his breath turned to ice. The weather forecast showed a storm moving in, but it was slow and wouldn’t hit the area until later that night. Brig had chosen his departure time well.

Inside Brig was settling his hotel bill with cash. He was burning through the remaining renminbi, but what did he care? As far as he was concerned, he only needed enough money to cover his expenses for the next three days, and he still hadn’t touched the U.S dollars. Whatever money he had left he would leave for James, and perhaps a small amount in his backpack for the person who would find his body.

As Brig walked out of the lobby and towards the Jeep, James observed that he was still, excruciatingly thin, but today there was a bounce in his step and color in his face.

“Your hearse awaits,” James announced from the driver’s seat.

Brig shook his head, “That’s not funny,” but chuckled nonetheless. Either Brig had finally convinced James that he really wasn’t going to kill himself, or James was being uncharacteristically insensitive. Brig knew it was the former and threw his new lime green Ortovox backpack next to James’ gear in the back seat of the jeep and climbed into the passenger’s seat.

“Are you ready?” James asked.

“As I’ll ever be!” Brig conjured his best James T. Kirk impression and commanded James to “Engage!” but The Star Trek reference was lost on the Kiwi.

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Lhasa – Chapter 10.11

Oh, shit, Tommy thought as he read Brig’s message. He had pushed Brig too hard and now Brig had blocked him, which was a genuine tragedy. Tommy had something Brig desperately wanted, and Tommy desperately wanted to give it to him, or more correctly, sell it to him. But what could he do now?

He tried calling, but as expected, there was no answer.

“Think! Think Scholar!” Tommy prodded himself to come up with a solution when he remembered an earlier message. Brig had said his hotel had a “…fantastic view of the Potala Palace.” Tommy reasoned that there couldn’t be many upscale hotels around this one tourist attraction. After a quick search on Baidu (the Chinese equivalent of Google) Tommy was certain he had found Brig’s hotel. Tommy called the Lhasa Shangri-La, and sure enough, they had a Brigham Young staying with them. He asked to be put through to Mr. Young’s room. The phone rang, but there was no answer. Either Brig was out, or he suspected that it was Tommy trying to reach him. Who else would call him? The operator offered to take a message. Tommy declined. He would deliver the message personally.

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Lhasa – Chapter 10.10

The morning before their scheduled departure, Brig received another blustering text from Tommy. The content of the message was like those that Tommy had sent him before. However, this one had a hard and demanding edge.

“DO NOT GO TO EVEREST! I have critical information that involves you and Happy. For reasons I won’t go into now, I must deliver this information face-to-face. This is life-changing. If you do not return to Xining immediately, you’ll force me to come to you.”

Brig was incensed. He considered ignoring the message and simply blocking Tommy from any further correspondence, but his pride and his anger required that he respond.

“You fucking asshole! You have a lot of nerve giving me orders. Intimidating your friends and colleagues may work for you in your little triad, but you can’t treat me like that! There was a time when I thought we were friends. But that was all bullshit! Everything that comes out of your mouth is a lie, and you no longer have any value. You or your daughter!

Sayonara. Mother-fucker!

PS: Don’t bother responding, because I’m blocking you! Immediately!”

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Lhasa – Chapter 10.9

Brig spent November working out and getting stronger. His progress was slow at first, but as he acclimatized and his body healed he became eager to get moving toward Everest Base Camp (EBC). It had been an unusually cold November, and the snow and ice had piled up around the city. James tried to convince Brig that it was too dangerous to travel to Rongbuk, but Brig wasn’t buying it. There was snow on the roads, but it was nothing that the right vehicle with the right tires couldn’t manage. Brig would leave for Everest in two days, with or without him.

James dutifully collected the required government permits, licenses, and approvals they would need. As a local tour guide, he was familiar with the process. He and Brig would leave Lhasa for Rongbuk on December 1st, giving Brig a buffer against potential delays. Brig was secretly determined to reach EBC on a specific and auspicious day. The timing of his arrival (and death) on Everest was an important piece of information that Brig hadn’t revealed to anyone. December 4th. It was the day his mother had passed away.

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Lhasa – Chapter 10.8

As Brig prepared for his climb to EBC, Tommy convalesced. Happy and Yellow had returned to Hong Kong along with the rest of the 14K contingent. Although he had made tremendous progress since entering the hospital and had even begun walking again (with the help of a cane), the doctors were adamant that he continue to rest and recuperate.

Tommy had lots of time to think and plan and text. He was becoming a power-texter. He exchanged messages with Happy, Yellow, Johnny, and a less-than-enthusiastic Brig. Happy had told Tommy how visibly upset Brig was when Boss Chang had a brutally beaten and nearly dead Tommy drug into the interrogation room. And how, even though Brig had learned how thoroughly she and Tommy had betrayed him, Brig still loved her and had stuck around Xining long enough to make sure Tommy would survive.

Brig’s willingness to forgive may have inspired some. Tommy of all people should have felt something. But Tommy had been a criminal and con-man all of his life, and his first thought was, “How can I take advantage of this?” With Chang’s death and Happy’s promotion, Tommy was debt-free. Still, he needed to make a living. Now that he was out of prison, his pride would no longer allow him to accept money from his daughter.

Then he realized nothing had changed. As far as Tommy knew, Brig’s father was still considering the ransom. Furthermore, Brig had told him he still had access to a bank account that his father had possibly forgotten about. If Tommy could persuade Brig to join him, he may yet enjoy a respectable payday.

As a consequence, Tommy continued texting Brig, trying to regain his trust and friendship, but Brig wasn’t interested in returning to Xining. Tommy no longer had anything to offer him. As a last resort, Tommy concocted a story about an important piece of information he would only share with Brig to his face. It was a lie, of course…until it wasn’t.

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Lhasa – Chapter 10.7

For the umpteenth day in a row, Brig awoke in pain. He swallowed a pair of his NSAIDs and pulled on his new gym shorts. He would begin training for his trek to Everest Base Camp today. As he laced up his shoes, Brig saw James Wilson’s business card sitting on top of his nightstand. He felt guilty about the way he had treated the friendly New Zealander, especially after how much James had helped him, but that was that. He had no time for regrets. Upward and onward, Brig told himself.

After breakfast, Brig made his way to the gym. How long had it been since he had been in a gymnasium? Working out was not a part of a closeted drug addict’s routine. Just as Brig stepped out of the elevator and onto the floor with the hotel’s gym and spa, his phone dinged. Another message. Brig’s heart raced. He presumed it was another message from Happy. The phone alert forced him to think of Happy, which, if he was ever going to get over her, had to stop. Should he block her messages? But the message wasn’t from Happy. It was from Tommy, and he was upset.

“God damn it Brig, answer me! Where are you? I know what you’re planning. The doctor’s say I’ll need to stay in this hospital for at least another couple of weeks, so come back to Xining and let’s talk. At least let me know you’re alive.”

Did everyone know he was planning on killing himself? He had told no one about his plans to commit suicide, but both Tommy and James had put the pieces together and figured it out. Going forward, Brig resolved he would be more conservative with information he shared with others.

Brig entered the gym and was overwhelmed by the number and variety of exercise machines. There was only one other athlete in the room, and she was going hard on a rowing machine. Brig looked for something simple to start with as he didn’t want to embarrass himself. He spotted a row of treadmills. But these treadmills weren’t like anything he had ever seen before. Each machine had its own twenty-inch monitor, a pair of headphones, and an absurd number of buttons. It’s a Chinese TV remote on steroids, Brig thought anxiously. He stepped onto the motionless rubber band, perplexed on how to get started. He saw a “+” icon on one button, pushed it, and to Brig’s relief the machine sprang to life. Brig wasn’t planning on pushing himself today, so he pushed the “+” button repeatedly, increasing the machine’s speed to a slow walk.

After only ten minutes Brig was gassed. The woman on the rowing machine had finished her workout and left the gym. Brig relaxed, not needing to pretend anymore. He stopped the machine and grabbed his knees. Ten minutes at a walking pace? Pathetic, Brig laughed at himself.

“Is that all you got?” A familiar voice startled Brig out of his thoughts.

“I’m not done,” Brig announced, hitting the + button and began walking again. “Are you stalking me now?”

It was James. “Thought I’d get in a few kilometers in before work.” James stepped onto the treadmill next to Brig’s, quickly ramping up to an eight-minute per mile pace that appeared to be no trouble for him. Brig increased the speed on his machine to twelve minutes per mile, forcing him into a jog. Every foot plant sent a jolt of pain through his legs and into his hips.

“Fuck that,” Brig said out loud and returned the machine to walking pace. “Look. James. I wanted to thank you for your help yesterday.” Brig explained, breathing heavily. “But you have the wrong idea. I’m not trying to kill myself. Would somebody who is suicidal go through the pain of working out? I don’t think so. People on treadmills are thinking about the future. Like I told you yesterday, I’m trying to fulfill my lifelong dream of seeing and touching Everest. That’s all.”

“Good! That’s great to hear. Then you won’t mind if I join you.” James smiled as the front of his treadmill automatically inclined 5%.

Brig’s mouth dropped, “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Make your machine go up like that.”

“It’s programmed. You can set if for several types of workouts. Do you want me to show you?”

“No. No. I was just curious.” Brig stepped off of his machine and walked over to the water cooler. He filled his small conical cup three times before seeing the small refrigerator filled with plastic bottles of water. He grabbed a bottle from the fridge and sat down on the cushiony seat of the bench press, breathing heavily.

James stopped his run and wandered over to where Brig was sitting. Another person entered the room, and James waved to the man in recognition.

“You’ll need permits and somebody to drive you. Why not me?” James asked.

Brig looked up from his seat, wiped his sweaty face with his hand, and sighed. “Fine. But I make the trek from Rongbuk to EBC on my own. Agreed?”

“Deal.” James and Brig shook hands. Brig was secretly pleased. He liked James and knew the odds of him reaching Everest Base Camp had just gone up considerably.

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Lhasa – Chapter 10.6

Brig met James in the hotel lobby at 2:00 p.m. Brig was moving better now. The oxygen had been excellent, but every step he took reminded him of the abuse his body had recently received. James laughed as Brig limped towards him. “My God mate. We’ll be lucky to get into the taxi by nightfall at the rate you’re moving. Need a hand?” James offered.

“I’m fine,” Brig said. “Lead the way.”

In the taxi they continued their friendly banter. James teased Brig about the tightness of his pants, asking if that was why his voice was so high-pitched. Brig asked James if all Tibetan women grew beards. Despite the ease of their conversation, Brig was still wary of James. After his experience with Tommy, he had become far less trusting of people. Growing up rich in Salt Lake City, he hadn’t developed the skeptic muscle that most people developed earlier in life, but those muscles were working overtime now.

“Can you see Everest from here?” Brig asked.

“Hell no. You’re still 450 kilometers away. When the clouds clear, you can see some peaks, but you need to travel to Shigatse, or even Lhatse, to get a good look at Everest. Most tourists will travel to Rongbuk Monastery and hoof it to Everest Base Camp from there. But it’s miserable there now. By the looks of you, you’d be blown off the mountain.”

“Yeah. Well, we’ll see.”

“Seriously. You can’t go up there. You’ll die. You could barely walk to the taxi.”

“Well. I’m not going up there today.”

“No, you’re not. You’ll need a few months of training before you’d be in good enough shape to make EBC.”

“Sometime between now and then, I’ll make it…probably closer to now.”

“I’ll wager a 1000 Kiwi that it’s closer to then.”

“I don’t know what 1000 Kiwi’s are worth, but you’re on.” Brig took the bet, knowing he would never collect or pay.

It was 7 p.m. by the time they returned to the Shangri-La. The taxi was packed with shopping bags full of clothes and climbing equipment. James gave Brig a hard time for wasting his money on climbing equipment he would never use, but Brig seemed to know what he wanted. James was also a mountaineer and Brig’s knowledge of mountaineering equipment impressed him. The doorman piled the bags onto a luggage trolley and assured Brig that he would take his purchases to his room immediately. Brig tipped the man handsomely before limping away.

He was using James’ shoulder now, the pain in his leg almost more than he could bear.

“Let’s grab a bite and a beer in the oxygen room.”

“No way. I’m wiped out. I’m just going to go up and get into bed.”

“C’mon. You owe me a drink. Besides, the oxygen will do you good. I promise. It’ll help you sleep better.”

Brig did owe James, and he could tell James wasn’t going to accept “no” for an answer. Brig would have to rally and push through the exhaustion. In times like these, Brig found motivation in the Beck Weather’s story, a man that had survived two nights near the summit of Everest, unprotected and in the death zone. If Beck Weathers could endure what he did, Brig could manage another hour in the oxygen room of this 5-star luxury hotel.

“If you don’t mind my asking, why are you carrying so much cash?” James asked as he and Brig enjoyed their beer. James was right; the oxygen room had replenished Brig’s energy.

“Not as much as I had this morning.”

“About that. What the hell are you doing? You clearly know what you’re buying, so you must also know that you’ll never use most of the equipment you bought. You’re not climbing. The highest you’ll get is base camp, and you’ll only need a good pair of boots and warm clothes for that. If you hadn’t noticed, it’s winter here in Tibet. You picked the worst time of the year to visit Everest. The best climbers in the world won’t even try to climb Everest in the winter.”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Brig replied. “Do you really think I would travel all the way to Lhasa, not knowing it’s winter? I’ve been reading about Everest most of my life…I’m well aware of the dangers.” Brig knew he was saying too much, but he couldn’t help himself.

“You prick! You’re not trying to climb Everest, are you? You’re going up there to kill yourself, yeah?”

“Of course not!” Brig said unconvincingly. “I’ve dreamed of coming to Everest since I was a little boy. Now that I’m here, I want to push myself. I know I won’t get far, but I want to be able to say that I made an Everest summit attempt. Besides, what business is it of yours?”

“Bullshit! I can’t let you do that Brigham. That’s bad for my business.”

“Now that’s bullshit. People are attracted to Everest because it’s dangerous. Sir Hillary didn’t climb Everest just because he was in the neighborhood.” Brig was suddenly angry. He had been stupid to let James know so much about him. He realized too late that this was why he had been so tentative in befriending James. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”

“Brig, listen. I’ve got a proposal for you. Let me help you get to base camp. You’re going to need my help. But if we do this, you’ve got to promise me that you won’t…you know.”

“I don’t need to promise you anything. And I don’t need your help. There’s a stack of brochures in my room offering the services of hundreds of tour guides that will drive me right up to base camp.”

“Well, that’s not true. You may get to Rongbuk if the roads are clear. But this time of the year it’s a crapshoot. Even if you make it to Rongbuk, you’ll still have a two to three-hour trek to base camp, and three hours back, and that’s if you’re in decent shape. It’s not the shopping mall up there.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Brig said flatly. “How much do I owe you for today?”

“C’mon mate. Now you’re just being rude. You don’t owe me anything. But please. Think about my offer. I don’t know what you’ve been through, I don’t know what your story is, but it’s not too late to change it. Here’s my card. Call me.”

“Suit yourself. It was nice meeting you.” Brig took James’ card and walked away as energetically as he could given his condition.

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