Twelve: Travel Plan

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Late Evening, Thursday, Day 11 – Wuhan, China

Back in his room, Spence opened a browser to tripadvisor.com to look for a flight Friday evening.

Assuming they give me back my passport, he grumbled to himself.

Dr. Gu, the head honcho for the International School of Software, had been nasty in the meeting. Spence announced he was cancelling the last day of his seminar and leaving but Gu countered with breach of contract. He coldly stated they would deny his fee, refuse to pay his expenses and sue for damages in the US courts. Spence calculated he’d be almost $30,000 in the hole instead of $7,000 ahead and, with his total bank balance at less than $5,000 and no sign of other income, he was ready to concede he’d stick around for one day of class for thirty grand.

What’re the odds there’ll be another bombing right away, he asked himself.

And the guy who chopped off that students head— he’s never put in an appearance. I guess he didn’t see me after all and so keeping my mouth shut has been the right thing to do.

Maybe I’m safe here for one more day, Spence was ready to concede.

But Gu was an academic, a pompous ass, and a miniature tyrant, three things that always got Spence’s dander up. Spence argued and fought doctor Gu because he disliked him and his kind.

The matter was decided for him an hour later when the interrogator from the Ministry of State Security took his passport, supposedly to double-check his papers but Spence was sure Gu had something to do with it.

Probably some under-the-table deal with the school, he grumbled to himself. If the government wants to suppress the terrorist bombing story and present one of a natural gas leak instead, Gu might promise their cooperation if the Ministry would block Spence’s early exit.

Spence paused.

That’s a bit of a stretch, Spence told himself, a school official getting a concession from a national government agency but, well, it could happen.

So I’ll teach their last day of class but tomorrow evening, he grumbled as the flights from Wuhan came up on his computer, I’m out’a here no matter what!

Unfortunately, Wuhan China was like Denver, Atlanta or Dallas; all flights out on a Friday night were full. There were no seats to any of the international hubs, not one.

Okay, how about a train?

Megyn had mentioned a high-speed train that left Wuhan from the new station just across the lake.

He Google’d “Wuhan high speed train,” got several links and started with Wikipedia.

The run to Guangzhou hit a top speed of 185 MPH and took about 3.5 hours. Cool! From there to Hong Kong was by bus or conventional train and would add a couple of hours.

Leaving here before dinner, we can be in Hong Kong by midnight.

Spence paused as he realized he didn’t have Megyn’s buy-in for this.

She’d flown to China with him and they’d added a week to see the sights before returning to the States. Now Spence was abandoning all that.

What if wants to introduce me to her parents?

He’d been thinking about popping the question.

We’ve been good friends for years.

Shanghai seemed to cinch it for him.

I could spend the next half of my life with her.

But would she abort her trip and fly back early to the States with him?

Spence started working out Megyn’s decision tree.

I’m the one that witnessed the beheading, not her. And while the killer might have seen me, nearly a week has gone by and he’s done nothing. And I’m the one who was caught in the campus bombing, not her.

But Megyn had said her parents were old and unable to travel, much less all the way to the United States.

Spence concluded he could not count on her cutting off what might well be her last family visit.

Give her the option. I’ll book cancellable tickets. They’ll cost more than pre-paid but then she can make up her own mind.

On the web page, a train left Wuhan for Guangzhou South, the jumping off point for Hong Kong, every 30 minutes on Friday night. A one way First Class seat was a little over $100 US, Second Class a little under that, and, oddly, Business Class was over $200 and filling up fast.

“What’s up with that?” he said aloud to his otherwise empty room.

Guangzhou, he knew from his previous travels, was on the mainland and just up the road from Hong Kong. The China travel guide he’d Google’s said the leg from Guangzhou to Hong Kong could be done by train or coach. The guide said no reservations were needed.

Okay, pot luck to Hong Kong.

Going back to air travel, he was again stymied by Friday night. Hong Kong back to the States was booked solid that night. Even the pre-paid discounters came up empty.

They’d have to stay overnight in Hong Kong.

Two minutes later, that step was thwarted. No rooms, neither singles nor doubles, anywhere in Hong Kong.

All right, Spence thought, determined to start the trip even if it couldn’t be finished, just get us out of Wuhan after class, he mumbled. After that, I don’t care where we get stuck. Just get moving!

He finally found two single rooms in Guangzhou across town from the train station. They would leave the high speed train at Guangzhou South and take another train, no doubt a packed shuttle, to Guangzhou East. And while the rooms were prepaid and could not be cancelled, at $65/nt, Spence was willing to risk the money in order to have a confirmed bed. He’d tell Megyn they could be cancelled if she didn’t want to go and then just pay for the extra room himself. The hotel website said it was a “short walk” to the hotel from the east-side train station and Spence confirmed the walking distance on Google-Earth, three-quarters of a mile beside what looked like a park. He paid for the hotel and then logged in to United.com and reserved their flight, Hong Kong to San Francisco, with yet another overnight, cancellable, thank goodness, in Beijing.

Spence typed up his paper notes.

  • Late Friday after Class, Wuhan to Guangzhou
    • Wuhan high-speed train to Guangzhou South, first available train: 3.5 hours (frequent departures, empty seats, dinner on train)
    • Local shuttle train to Guangzhou East railway station: 17 minutes
    • Walk to hotel
    • China Mayor’s Plaza Hotel: one night, two singles
  • Early Saturday, Guangzhou to Hong Kong International Airport
    • Walk to east-side train station
    • Train back to Guangzhou South: 17 minutes.
    • Train to Shenzen: 90 minutes (catch as catch can)
    • Over to Hong Kong: Taxi? Local train? Boat?
    • Out to Hong Kong international airport: Local subway and high-speed train
    • Lunch/dinner at Hong Kong airport
  • Saturday Evening, Hong Kong to Beijing
    • HKG-PEK, 8:00PM-10:55PM (3 hr flight), Air China #116, then 13 hr wait
    • Hilton at airport: one night, two singles ($148 ea)
  • Sunday Morning, Beijing to Los Angeles (overnight)
    • PEK-LAX, Noon-8:00AM (12 hr flight, arriving Tuesday morning), Air China #887, then 6 hr wait
  • Monday Morning, Los Angeles to Phoenix (Megyn to San Jose? Not booked yet)
    • LAX-PHX, 1:56PM-4:23PM (1.5 hr flight), Air China #7352 (code share Sky West)

In a spreadsheet, he calculated the total booking. Nearly $6000 US.

It would eat up almost all of what he’d make from the trip but his mind was made up.

“This is an awful place,” he said aloud to his hotel room, closed his notebook computer and set it on the nightstand.

Shedding his clothes and brushing his teeth with bottled water, it was well after midnight when he turned off the light and closed his eyes.

He awoke in the middle of the night to his own moaning.

In the dream, there had been a huge explosion and he was trapped beneath rubble. Everything was ghostlike with ash-colored dust. Standing above him and leaning over was a man whose face he could not see. He was stabbing at him with a long knife. Spence, his arms and legs pinned by the debris, twisted with each thrust to dodge the blade. But the sudden moves jammed his arms and face into razor sharp pieces of broken glass. He was trying to yell for help but the debris pressed hard on his chest, allowing only weak moans.

He got out of bed to look out the window. Far below, the brightly lit avenue in front of the hotel was devoid of life. And in the darkness beyond, he gazed left where the destroyed library would be, and then right to Mount Luojia where the head and body might still be hiding.

Other than the avenue, everything else was black.

Spence saw his own face reflected in the glass, the scratches from forest branches and shattered glass black in the blue fluorescent light.

I could never imagine such horror.

Not a particularly religious man, Spence was surprised when a distant part of his mind started quoting.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

There was no Gideon Bible in this room from which to get the rest.

Dear God, he gazed out at the blackness, be with me.

 

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