Saturday Morning, Day 13
Spence awoke to the sound of his cell phone’s ring tone.
Megyn was heading down the hall for coffee.
“Double cream, thanks. I’ll leave the door open.”
No more mother mode, Spence relaxed. Whatever had triggered Megyn’s control-fest on the train seemed to have passed with the night.
He brushed his teeth using the second of two bottles of water in the room.
He was just out of the shower after a quick rinse and standing barefoot in the bathroom with a towel around his waist when he heard the door pushed open. The BIC plastic razor in his right hand hung in the air as he twisted to look.
Her perfectly coifed hair looked a very dark chestnut in the dawn light streaming horizontally into the room. As always, her skin and eye makeup were impeccable. With lipstick and matching nails a color he suspected were new for today, her face was accented with gold ball earrings and a thread-like chain necklace with a matching gold ball. She wore an immaculate linen blouse beneath a tan jacket with matching, pleated skirt and shoes also an identical shade. Her legs … he had to stare but couldn’t decide if the sheen was from stockings or bare skin.
“What?” she blushed at his head-to-toe inspection.
He shook his head and smiled, “Amazing.”
“Thank you,” she said waving his paper cup of coffee in the air before setting it on the desk.
“If it’s all right with you,” she went on as started shaving, “I’d like to get to Hong Kong and the airport right away. We’ll be safer there.”
“That’s a great airport,” he agreed. “Lots of shops and restaurants. It’ll be nice to get back to civilization.”
He stopped, unsure how Megyn would take that last remark.
But she nodded, “I grew up in Wuhan by the University but it’s so different now. China is better, worse, … but mostly just different. Home to me is Cupertino. I’m ready to go home.”
Spence felt enormous relief; they were of one mind again. China had been interesting, different, and challenging with its many enjoyments. But home was freeways, English signage, McDonalds, Wendy’s, sushi bars, Starbucks, California wines, take-out pizza and houses with front and back yards.
Ten minutes later, they turned left out the front of the hotel and walked the half block to the narrow road beside the park. The train station was just up the hill. Hugging the wall that lined the side of the road, they dragged their wheeled luggage up the rough street.
The sun was only slightly above the horizon and hidden behind the buildings on the opposite side of the park. An occasional thin shaft of light knifed across the park but, for the most part, it was barely light enough to see their way clear. Fifty yards ahead, a van sat on the wrong side of the narrow road, pointed toward them with white steam puttering from its exhaust that disappeared slowly in the morning cool.
Ahead, the block wall on their left ended where a side alley entered.
Megyn was on the left, nearest the wall as they walked and Spence realized a gentleman’s place was over there where he could protect her from attackers in the alley.
“Here, change places with me,” Spence said stopping to let Megyn and her roller bag get ahead so he could move around to her left.
A couple of steps ahead, Megyn stopped abruptly, stood her rolling suitcase on its feet and released the handle, and twisted around to her right and back toward Spence, “You don’t need to …”
But her words were cut off when a figure charged out of the alley and attempted to leap over her now upright suitcase. But his foot caught the top and he started to roll in mid-air. His left arm had snagged Megyn’s neck at the peak of his leap and now all three, the attacker, Megyn and her rolling suitcase, all tumbled away from the alley. Megyn, half twisted around toward Spence with her computer case still firmly grasped in her right hand and propelled by the attacker’s brief grab at her neck, spun to her right and the computer bag arced up and over the top and smashed down on the attacker’s chest, knocking him even further away from the alley.
A red brick tumbled out of the attacker’s hand as he struck the ground and stopped five feet away.
Spence had unconsciously released both of his bags to move to help but something about the attacker’s appearance stopped him. Solid khaki shirt and dark green work pants, a close-shaven head with a white scar down the left side and wide-set eyes.
“Oh!” Spence’s voice exploded, his eyes stretched wide.
It was the killer from the forest!
Spence felt like someone had hit him in the stomach. He started gasping for breath.
Megyn was between Spence and the attacker. She scrambled to get up but the leather soles of her shoes, the slick stone pavers and her tight skirt made it hard.
Spence took a step forward to help her up.
“Stop!” The man ordered in English.
Spence looked to see him pushing himself up with his left hand, the revolver in his right hand, held low in their general direction as he rose.
Sights not lined up. Hammer not cocked. Spence noted automatically. Double action. Heavy trigger. Jerked shot.
Megyn, now on two feet but crouched down, held both hands out like dual Stop signs, one toward their attacker in front of her, and the other directly behind toward Spence.
She shouted something.
It wasn’t English.
Right-handed shooter, Spence recited from memory, jerks down and left. Mentally reversing shooter and target perspectives, Spence concluded, If he shoots but jerks the shot, it’ll go to our right.
Megyn shouted to the attacker again but all Spence got was it started and ended with, “Tack!”
The attacker shifted his eyes from Spence in the back to Megyn in the middle. His eyebrows pinched together for a moment but then his gaze shifted back to Spence as he took a big step to his right to get a clear view of Spence. The attacker raised the revolver to eye level, aiming past Megyn to Spence.
But Megyn took a step to her left blocking his aim.
Dammit, Spence cursed silently, I should be protecting her, not vice versa!
She shouted a third time, again whatever she said, it sounded like “Tack” at the end.
Across the narrow road, three early morning commuters had stopped to watch.
Megyn turned her head slightly to shout back toward Spence, “Spence, this is my brother.”
“What?” Spence’s voice cracked. “He’s what?”
“My brother. This is my brother,” she repeated, her hands still up to hold them at bay.
Everyone stood frozen for a full beat.
Megyn twisted her body around, hands still up, until she was looking directly at Spence.
“I said, this is my brother. His name is Sartaq.”
Sartaq? Spence’s mind tumbled.
That’s the killer in the forest.
The killer is her brother?
A wave of nausea welled up. Spence took a breath to fight it back.
Sartaq shouted something and waggled the gun, motioning Megyn to the side.
Megyn shook her head, took a deep breath and stiffened her back.
“Li,” Sartaq said Megyn’s Chinese name as if pronouncing a warning.
“No!” Megyn commanded.
Over her shoulder, she said, “He’s trying to shoot you. Don’t step out from behind me.”
I’m hiding behind her, behind a woman’s skirt, for Heaven’s sake, Spence gritted his teeth. I’m supposed to be the man, the shield, the protector.
But with the revolver already up and aimed, Spence dared not move.
Unless he’s had a lot of practice squeezing the trigger hard to raise that hammer but then easing the pressure at just the right moment before the hammer is released so he doesn’t jerk it, the bullets could hit anyone, anywhere, if anything.
Looking just past Megyn’s head, Spence saw Sartaq’s eyes shift focus from the two of them to close up on the revolver. As he did so, Spence saw the gun’s aim change ever so slightly. When the gun stopped moving, Spence was looking directly into the barrel, the ends of the copper-jacketed bullets glowing in the morning light from the open ends of the cylinder.
Spence could see Sartaq’s finger starting to press the trigger.
But then he paused, cocked his head to the side as if asking a question, and a smug look crept across his face.
His trigger finger visibly relaxing, his lips parted into a toothy grin as he exhaled, took a deep breath, and moved the gun slightly left.
Spence was no longer looking down the barrel.
The gun was now aimed at Megyn.
“What’re you doing?” Spence yelled at Sartaq, then, “What’s he doing?” to Megyn.
The back of Megyn’s neck flashed red as she began shouting English curse words and what he could only guess were the Cantonese equivalents.
Sartaq’s focus shifted up and out to Megyn’s face and his smile cracked into one of shock as her tirade ratcheted up. Sartaq seemed to reel from the blistering. His arm, outstretched with the revolver, visibly drooped an inch, then another and another as Megyn continued.
Sartaq’s previously giddy expression had been displaced by the look of a little boy caught doing something bad.
Spence thought, if she keeps this up, he’s going to start crying!
But instead, his eyes narrowed, his nostrils flared and his lips thinned and began to ripple.
With no warning, he leapt forward and went around Megyn, capturing her in his left arm while pinning hers and turning her as he lifted up until her toes just barely touched the ground.
Facing Spence again, he put the gun to the side of Megyn’s head and took a step back.
Raising his hands and starting forward, Spence shouted, “No!”
But Sartaq glared and jammed the muzzle hard into Megyn’s head making her cry out.
Spence stopped. The feeling of nausea was almost overwhelming as blood pounded in his head.
Sartaq, turning his head to the right and up the road, shouted something over his shoulder. The van, idling fifty yards away, jerked into motion.
Megyn was a mad woman, shrieking, twisting and fighting her captor like a wildcat captured in a steel wire snare. But each spasm and kick just drew Sartaq’s hold around her waist and arms tighter and tighter.
The van screeched to a stop and, as it rocked back from the momentum, the sliding door banged open against its stops. Several pairs of hands reached out, ready to grab.
Sartaq heaved and, like a large but manageable bag of groceries, threw Megyn into the van where she was grabbed and held, her hands and now her feet, immobile. She still fought, twisting and cursing, but could not break loose. Sartaq leaped inside as the door started to shut but he grabbed it at the last moment, holding it open a few inches.
Inside the van, Spence overheard several voices shouting, arguing. At first it was all male voices but, one seemed to achieve dominance and the others quieted. He could then hear a smaller argument, this time between Megyn and, Spence assumed, her brother.
Then, the discussion stopped and the door slid open.
Megyn was firmly held by two men inside the van, one on the floor with his arms wrapped around her calves, the other beside her leaning in and bending her to the side with his arms around her waist and her arms pinned as before. Sartaq was behind, the revolver again pressed high against the back of her head. At that angle, if fired, the bullet would come out her mouth after passing through the middle of her brain. Spence could see Sartaq’s dark hand, his finger in the trigger guard and pressing on the trigger. But this time, the revolver’s hammer was cocked and Spence knew would only take a twitch, a single provocation, to release the hammer.
This shot would not be jerked.
Megyn, her face red, eyes fiery and her voice barely under control, started to say, “If you want to see me alive …,” but stopped, shook her head in spite of the gun and added, “I don’t believe this.” Sartaq again pressed the barrel hard against Megyn’s head.
She winced before resuming, “Sartaq says if you want to see me alive, you must tell no one anything that’s happened. He says you must be at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore in two weeks on Saturday, in the lobby, at exactly Noon. He says he will let me go there.”
She started to add, “Spence, I …”
The sliding door cut her off and the van leaped forward.
At the bottom of the park, it slewed around the corner to the right and onto the main avenue, the horns of cars blaring as they swerved and braked to avoid collision.
Spence stood frozen, his mouth open and arms still halfway up.
The van with Megyn, the killer he’d seen on the mountain— her brother!— and the others who’d held her prisoner were gone.
Slowly dropping his arms, Spence realized his onlookers had disappeared.
As he gasped for breath, the feeling of gagging slowly faded.
He had no license number nor could he remember anything about the vehicle except it was a van. Was it tan or white? Which kind of white? Which shade of tan?
His brain was a blank.
Two roller suitcases, two computer bags and a red brick lay to his right, the only suggestions that anything had happened.
Everything around him returned to normal. Traffic started and stopped on the wide avenue as the light changed from red to green and back again. People walked up through the park toward the train station as a surge came out of the station and walked down past the park. A few looked over at him and the four bags but kept going. Most didn’t even look as they hurried past.
He stayed like that until the sun, cresting over the top of an office building on the other side of the park, hit his face with its bright, full yellow light.
He repeated what Megyn had said.
Two weeks, Marina Bay Sands hotel, Singapore, Noon.
What day is this? He asked himself.
Class ended yesterday, he calculated. This must be Saturday. So fourteen days from today.
Stirred by the heat of the morning sun, Spence gathered their luggage and moved it to the edge of the park. He looked at the broken red brick several seconds before kicking it to the curb.
Useless, he concluded, like me.
He sat on the low concrete wall of a planter next to the luggage.
The interval, two weeks, nagged at his mind.
Why two weeks?
Spence was sure he could be in Hong Kong in a couple of hours and then be on a flight to Singapore arriving easily by dinner time.
Why did they need two weeks? Even driving West through Vietnam, Laos and Thailand then down the entire slender length of Malaysia, Spence was sure it wasn’t more than a few days.
Shaking his head at the impossibility of what had just happened, his emotions threatened to overwhelm him again. He wanted to jump up and shake his fists and rage at the Heavens. But at the same time he felt he was going to explode with gut wrenching sobs and howls, rolling on the ground with everything inside his body spewing out both ends. Then, in the next instant, he had to fight the urge to pound his head with his fists, all for his cowardice, for doing nothing as Megyn had being carried off at gun point.
He sat, hands on either side gripping the planter’s edge shaking as he battled his feelings. The only outward indication, unnoticed by commuters as they walked past, was an occasional shudder of rage in his otherwise locked body.
By the time he calmed enough to pay attention to his surroundings, the right side of his face was burning from the sun and the rush of commuters were gone, replaced by the occasional mother and child pair walking to the play area across the park.
Standing, he flexed his legs one at a time and rubbed his butt to get the blood flowing after sitting for so long.
Singapore, he sighed.
Stacking Megyn’s computer case atop her roller bag and then doing the same with his, he took one pair in each hand and headed up the slope to the train station.
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