Fifteen: Sibling Confrontation


Friday Evening, Day 12 – 298 kilometers per hour


This isn’t going to work, Sartaq groused silently.

From his seat at the back, he’d kept his eyes on the the row with the American and Lili as he’d tried to figure it out but finally gave up.

This is too public, too crowded and too fast.

Security in the station meant he couldn’t bring a weapon on board so he’d have to use his hands,  and that was fine. But if he killed the American on the train, there was no place to hide the body. Worse, escape by forcing the door and leaping onto the rock, concrete and steel roadway at 298 kilometers per hour was just not an option. Instead, he’d be trapped on the train with the body sure to be found.

Besides, with Lili right there, she’d recognize him in an instant.

She’ll put it all together. What would she do then?

Sartaq raised his right hand and stroked his lips. Unconsciously, he began chewing on the same nail he’d torn earlier. It had a small burr and he scraped it across the end of his right front tooth to try and smooth it out.

He felt someone standing next to him.

It was Lili.

“Taq?” Her eyes narrowed. “What’re you doing here?”

Sartaq put his hand down as if she’d caught him doing something naughty.

“Uh, Hi, Lili. I wasn’t expecting …, I mean, yeah, what a surprise. Uhm, what’re you doing here?” He asked.

“I got up to stretch and saw you,” she said evenly, cocking her head to the side. “I thought you were going back to your place when you left Mom and Dad’s.”

Lili repeated her challenge, “What’re you doing here?”

Sartaq cursed silently. He could try to make something up but, in all their years growing up, he’d never been able to fool her.

But if I tell her the truth, she’ll put the whole plan in jeopardy.

Sartaq shook his head as he felt the urge to bring his hand back up to his mouth.

Lili glared, “Taq?”

In his mind’s eye, Lili was a nine year tom-boy, three years younger than him, with straight black hair and dusty bare feet. She beat him in every foot race in spite of his longer legs and stronger muscles.

Even back then, she was much, much smarter. He’d been kicked out of school while she’d gone on for another dozen years. She spoke Putonghua— the American would call that Mandarin— and also the Cantonese and street Wuhanua he used, and she was undoubtedly fluent in English, too.

But, while this woman standing next to him on the train was his half-sister, she was nothing like the little girl that raced him across the ridge atop Luojia so many years ago.

On the contrary, Sartaq thought, she had become unreasonable, confrontational, and after the meeting with mother and his step-father this morning, it was clear she blamed him for the consequences of her own abandonment.

This is a different person, Sartaq said to himself as he looked at the woman glaring down at him.

Lili no longer exists.

Sartaq made up his mind.

She’s chosen her own fate.

“Sit down, Zhang Li. I will tell you something.”

He kept to the essentials, the movement, recruiting students, the necessity of Wang Qing Yang’s execution and the library bombing.

He finished with, “We’re on our way now, me by train and my associates, my soldiers, by van to Guangzhou, and then together to Singapore.”

Lili had listened, head down, without moving.

As if talking about the weather, she said softly, “So, you’re here to kill Spence.”

A moment later, Sartaq saw her eyes widen and she added, “And now me, too.”

Why does she have to be so smart?

They rode in silence, the velocity indicator at the far end of the coach never wavering from 298.

“So, how will you do it?” She asked, her head still down.

He answered truthfully.

“I don’t think I can on the train. Maybe in Guangzhou or in the hotel. Where are you staying, by the way?”

Lili tilted her head, looking at him but not answering his question.

Instead, she offered, “Taq, I don’t think you realize that Spence has been helping you. He hasn’t, for his own reasons, called the Police or said anything to the Ministry of State Security even when they both interviewed him after the bombing.”

She paused before asking, “By the way, how did you do that, the bomb I mean?”

Sartaq leaned over to her and began to gesture with his right hand.

“The Dynamite came by truck from Kashgar and then to me by bicycle courier. I met him down by the dock at East Lake. In the library, I used three of my recruits,” he said smiling, “three of my soldiers.”

Lili nodded, “Suicide bombers.”

“You could say that,” he mumbled.

Lili shook her head, “I can’t imagine anyone blowing himself up like that, much less three.”

“Getting them ready was a long process,” Sartaq went on, the words coming fast, both hands animated. “And then there’s still the problem of something called simultaneous detonation. Apparently, if the four bombs don’t all go off at the same time, the first will blow the others apart. Only one will explode, not four.”

“Four?” Lili interrupted. “I thought you said you had three recruits?”

“Four bombs, three soldiers. I carried the fourth.” Sartaq corrected before continuing, “Another of my followers, not one of those three, built the special detonators. They work by remote control to set everything off at the same instant.”

Lili’s eyes narrowed.

“You used a remote control to set off the bombs? Then they weren’t really suicide bombers were they? They didn’t really kill themselves. They just walked in, sat down and waited for you to blow them up?”

His chest tight, Sartaq said nothing.

They rode in silence for a few seconds.

Finally, Lili began speaking slowly and softly, like their Mother would do with really important matters.

“Taq, you don’t have to worry about Spence. He wants out of China, no matter what. He’s afraid that, if he says anything, the Police will hold him, maybe even think he’s involved. He’s utterly convinced that to get home, he must not tell anyone what he knows.”

Lili reached over and put her hand on his. Her palm was wet.

“I love him, Taq. I’m being completely honest with you when I say I want the same thing; I want him safe and out of China.”

She started patting his hand as she finished, “I can keep him quiet. I can make sure he says nothing. Let me have him, Taq, and you can go do whatever horrible thing it is you want. I don’t care. Just give him to me.”

Sartaq nodded slowly, but not because he agreed.

There isn’t much I can do on the train. But if the two of them just keep plodding along, I’ll have the night to find a weapon and, in the morning, I can kill the American.

And, yes, then I’ll have to kill her too. Kill both because then there’s no way they can interfere no matter what they think or believe or know.

A half smile crossed his face.

Lili smiled back.

“See?” She gushed. “I’ll be with him all the way home. I’ll know if he wants to change his mind. I will convince him not to. And when we get home, we’ll be so far away he will probably decide to let China’s problem stay China’s problem. I will make sure he does that. You’ll be safe too. No one will ever know.”

At the other end of the coach, the American came out of the bathroom.

Sartaq slid down in his seat.

Lili pleaded, “I will make sure he says nothing, Taq?”

Maybe, he thought. What he really wanted to know was if he could trust her, and if she believed he would spare their lives.

He leaned close and looked directly in her eyes.

“Where are you staying in Guangzhou?”

He could see little beads of sweat on her upper lip.

She pleaded, “I’ll keep him quiet, Taq. You know I can do it.”

Looking deep in his eyes, she finished, “We’re in the Mayor’s Plaza Hotel near the East train station.”

Sartaq nodded and leaned back in his seat.

She watched him for a moment and then stood and smoothed her skirt, glancing up the coach where the American had already sat back down.

Sartaq smiled up at her, “I’ll be watching.”

Lili turned and started back up the coach, placing her hand on each seat back as she went.

A lot can happen in a night, Sartaq grinned.


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