Fourteen: Departure


Friday Afternoon, Day 12 – Departing Wuhan for Guangzhou


Forty-five minutes later, Spence rolled his bags out as Megyn’s rental car came to a stop on the asphalt outside the classroom.

She popped the trunk before reporting, “I called James to let him know he’s off the hook. Are you checked out from the hotel?”

Spence nodded and, his bags nestled next to hers, closed the trunk and climbed into the passenger seat.

Ten minutes later, Megyn turned into a Hertz car return. Spence was amused to see it looking much like any in the United States. He lifted their bags from the trunk as the attendant punched in the car’s mileage and fuel level. A few seconds later, Megyn had the receipt and they were crossing the street to the train station.

Both were smiling.

They stopped at what appeared to be the Departures board. The only thing Spence could read were the times. Everything else was in dot-matrix Chinese.

Scanning the display, Megyn said, “If we go to Shenzen, we can cross over into Hong Kong tonight. We’ll go through a passport check to get in and they’ll run our bags through the scanner.”

But Spence shook his head, “No rooms anywhere in Hong Kong. I prepaid a Guangzhou Hotel so we’d have places to sleep.”

Megyn nodded, “All right,” and pointed to the departure board. “The express at 1712 to Guangzhou South will get us that far. We should get there about 8:30 tonight.”

There was a line at the ticket kiosk. As they inched forward with their bags set to the side where they could keep an eye on them, Spence reached over and squeezed Megyn’s hand. “I’m glad you got to visit your parents. You don’t think they’d come to the US?”

Megyn shook her head, “I doubt the government would give them permission to apply for a Visa. This isn’t like the United States where you’re free to go as you please.

“I told Mom and Dad about us,” she added, putting her free hand on top of his. “I showed them your picture, that selfie we took on the flight to Shanghai, remember? Mom and Dad both said you looked kind and strong. Only Tack seemed upset you weren’t Chinese. I had no idea he would be so prejudiced.”


They boarded the high-speed train a few minutes after the hour. They’d opted for First Class seats on the left side in the middle of the coach which was mostly full. Spence scooted in to the window seat when Megyn motioned him in.

The train slid out of the station on what felt like rubber wheels on glass. As it continued through the city center, they bought ham and cheese sandwiches and small bottles of Pinot Grigio from the snack cart. It was not the fine dining Spence had imagined but, with Wuhan about to be left far behind, he didn’t care.

“What an awful week,” he said when the train finally began picking up speed.

He waved for the snack cart again. Megyn laid her head back and closed her eyes as he bought another Pinot Grigio, poured it into the plastic cup and took a strong swallow before continuing, “It’s funny but I think the murder shook me up more than the bomb. It was,” he searched for the word, “personal?”

Megyn turned her head to Spence but kept her eyes closed, “And you think the killer saw you?”

“I could swear he looked me square in the eye. He was maybe 50 yards away but I could see and hear him perfectly. I don’t understand how he missed me. But when I crashed down the hill into the campus walkway and looked back, he wasn’t there.”

His eyes hurting from trying to follow objects as they hurtled past outside, Spence turned away from the window and fixed his gaze on the LCD screen at the forward end of the coach. In the digital map, a tiny train icon was moving ever so slowly away from one yellow dot and down a green line toward a second yellow dot. To the left was a number that increased steadily. As it passed 200, Spence guessed it was their velocity in kilometers per hour. To the right, a digital clock said 2:57 and after about a minute it decreased to 2:56.

When the first number passed 250, he commented, “I think his name was Sartaq.”

There was a brief pause but then Megyn asked, her voice like escaping steam, “What did you say?”

“Sartaq,” Spence repeated. “One of the students said it. Twice. I think that’s his name.”

Spence glanced over. Megyn was sitting bolt upright in her seat, turned slightly toward him and staring into his eyes. Nervous at her intensity, he looked down. Her hand was clamped on the arm cushion between them, the knuckles and tendons standing out in high relief.

“What did he look like?” She demanded.

The snack cart was next to them again. Spence leaned past Megyn who lurched back as he bought another bottle of wine after checking the label, this time a Pinot Blanc from New Zealand. He poured it out and took a drink before shrugging, “Chinese, I guess, but different. His head was shaved but I could see the black where the stubble had grown out. There was a whitish streak on the left side of his head. He was darker than most Chinese, a lot darker. More brown, kind’a Indian or Middle Eastern.”

Spence inhaled and took another drink of wine, “I can still see his eyes. They were, I don’t know, too far apart? That was the first thing I really noticed. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that face.”

“How old was he? This is important, Spence. How old was he?”

Annoyed at her intensity when he just wanted to relax with the wine, he answered, “Oh, I don’t know, late 40s, early 50s maybe.”

“What about his clothes?” She continued.

Spence squirmed at her questioning.

“Mostly green, I think. Like the men that gamble street-side or work in the roll-up shops across the street.”

Several seconds passed. Spence was relieved the interrogation seemed to be over. He glanced over at Megyn and saw she was no longer looking at him. Instead, her gaze was fixed and toward the ceiling.

But her face was almost the color of ash and her eyes were scrunched slightly, not closed but not completely open. The temple on the side of her face looked sunken and extremely pale. He could see a blood vessel pulsing under the skin.

“Megyn, are you all right?”

A muscle in her cheek fluttered.

Spence put his hand on top of hers and gently tried to take it. She wouldn’t release the arm rest.

“Megyn,” he said in a strong voice, “Are you in pain?”

Getting no response, Spence wondered how to get medical help. He looked forward and backward in the car for an attendant. Seeing none, he started looking around the arms of the seats for a Call button.

“I’m all right,” Megyn interrupted his search, her voice high and strained.

Spence waited.

After nearly a minute, she whispered as if to herself, “God, I hope not.”


“I’m not sure,” she barked. “Let me think.”

Spence drew back and tried to ignore her.

The speed in the train’s LCD now sat steady at 298. The time to destination, two and a half hours, slowly ticked down.

He stole a glance at Megyn. She had the same look as engineers working some deep, convoluted problem. Spence knew it was best to just wait until they figured out whatever it was they were working. Interrupting their reveries would just make them mad.

He turned his eyes back to the tiny train in the LCD and watched it creep South, one pixel at a time.

An hour passed like that before the three glasses of wine made it through his system.

Spence leaned over and said, “I have to go to the bathroom. Do you know where it is?”

Megyn nodded toward the front of the train coach and shifted her knees to let him out but continued her concentration.

“I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”

He was third in line for the bathroom. He smiled and nodded to the man in front of him and tried not to fidget while hoping they would hurry up.


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