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The breakthrough, p.26
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       The Breakthrough, p.26

           Jerry B. Jenkins
 
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  “Is there a reason I’m not staying with you?”

  “Too much the small.”

  Small didn’t begin to describe Feng’s place. His multilocked door opened into a kitchen so tiny that two chairs and a table filled it. Every food item Feng owned appeared to have been crammed into a cupboard above a rudimentary icebox of no more than two feet square.

  Feng pointed Boone to the shower, such as it was. The nozzle protruded from the wall between the sink and the toilet. There was no tub, no stall, and no curtain.

  “Where does the water go?”

  “Drain in floor,” Feng said, pointing. “I visit America one time. Closets bigger than my bathroom. But luxury here.”

  A nail had been driven into the other side of the bathroom door. “For clothes,” Feng said. “See bedroom?”

  Feng’s single bed pressed against one tall, narrow box of shelves that appeared to contain all his worldly goods. “No family?” Boone said.

  “Long time ago.”

  Boone remembered that this collegiate-looking guy was forty-one.

  “You want take shower? No shower at hotel.”

  “I’ll just need one again in the morning. Can I come back then?”

  “Okay! We talk now.”

  “Please.”

  Feng directed Boone into the bedroom, pointed to one end of the bed, and sat on the other. He handed Boone his phone.

  All the lists and texts appeared in Chinese characters. Feng laughed. Boone shook his head. He didn’t want to scold his host, but there was nothing funny about any of this.

  Feng took back the phone and muttered as he punched buttons. “Translate and transmit.”

  Boone’s phone vibrated, and he eagerly accessed the text from Waldemarr. It read:

  Success, success, success! Other side got sloppy. Knives made a call to Mannock, which gave Jack a location on him. Surrendered without a fight and Jack says he told all. Why and how later. Also found Tuttman. Never apprehended before. Told all about tomorrow in exchange for leniency. Feng has details. Be careful. We’ll be listening.

  Boone sat blinking. It sounded almost too easy, but he knew better. All that was just shorthand for heroic work stateside. How could he sleep now? Impossible without Dr. Sarangan’s magic pills.

  “So, you know this hotel in Tianjin, Feng? What did you call it?”

  “Everyone knows, sir. The Astor. Hundred fifty years old. Oldest Western-style in China. Remodeled two years. Tomorrow we have the lunch nearby and you study.”

  “Case it.”

  “Yes, you case it.”

  “And you have a gun for me?”

  Feng stood on his end of the bed and used a key to open a heavy metal door he said he himself had installed in the ceiling. As the strong box came open, everything in it tumbled into Feng’s hands. He gingerly sat and sorted documents, ammunition, and two weapons. One was the replica of what Waldemarr had shown Boone, and the underslung laser sight was already attached.

  “Perfect,” Boone said, deftly checking the mechanism. Feng handed him two fifteen-round magazines, one of which Boone slammed into the handle from beneath.

  “Mine almost same,” Feng said, showing Boone. “You sharpshooter like me?”

  Boone had no idea what Chinese targets or shot scoring looked like. He shrugged. “Top 2 percent of Chicago police.”

  “How many police?”

  “More than thirteen thousand.”

  “Good as me, then,” Feng said, beaming. “You protect me.”

  “I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Boone sighed heavily, stood, and stored the gun and ammo in his bag.

  “Ready for short-distance walk to sleep?” Feng said.

  Boone recalled that Feng’s idea of short was six kilometers. He was exhausted by the time they reached a corner dive that rented rooms by the night. “Have toilet, sink, no tub, no shower.”

  After Feng gave instructions to the proprietor and told Boone how many yuan to give the man, they agreed on when to meet in the morning. “You come by for shower and I make morning pot sticker.”

  “Morning pot sticker?”

  “You like. Fill you till lunch in Tianjin.”

  “Deal,” Boone said, shaking Feng’s hand. He recalled that they had not shaken hands when they met because Feng had immediately reached for his bag. Maybe tour guides and tourists weren’t supposed to shake.

  As he secured his door and laid out his toiletries, Boone could still feel the calloused impression of Feng’s hand in his. The man was a rock. Protect him, indeed. Feng needed no one’s help in that department.

  Boone’s room was bigger than Feng’s whole apartment. He undressed and lay on his back in the darkness. Knowing Doc was listening in on his phone, Boone said, “Do I dare take another pill? Have to be up in six hours. Just text me a yes or no. I’ll be on the phone with Jack.”

  It was good to hear a familiar voice. “What time is it there?” Jack said.

  “A little after two in the morning.”

  “Then you’d better get some sleep.”

  “Before hearing all the details? C’mon, Jack!”

  “It would take a long time to give you all the details, and you and I both know you won’t be satisfied with only a summary.”

  “Why do you think I called?”

  “I know. But nothing is more important than tomorrow.”

  “Promise I’ll get every scintilla of what went down.”

  “Boones, you bring your boy back, and I’ll talk till you shut me up.”

  Waldemarr texted back, I assume you’re wired?

  Understatement.

  Then by all means, take a pill. But set an alarm.

  37

  Morning

  JULY 4

  At eight the next morning Boone’s watch beeped, and he endured the same ritual he had on the plane. Logy but anything but disoriented, he patiently waited until his body allowed him to stir. When he was finally mobile, he grabbed all his stuff, dressed in yesterday’s clothes, and hurried back to Feng’s.

  Already the sun was high and insistent. Everything about this country was foreign except the weather. It reminded him of the extremes of Chicago. Somehow he hadn’t expected the humidity, but that rivaled the Windy City too.

  Was Max in Tianjin already? Boone didn’t know or care, as long as he would be there that evening. Boone would not leave that city without Max. In fact, Boone would have to be shipped home in a box to leave the country by himself.

  The walk back to Feng’s, which—despite the heat—became a jog, seemed longer even than the night before. Boone decided it seemed that way only because every step he took this day got him closer to Max. He prayed the boy was only confused, not scared, but he knew better. Adults can fool kids for only so long. How many times had these scoundrels promised Max his mother would be waiting at the next destination?

  Boone was dripping and could smell himself. The sooner he got under Feng’s excuse for a shower, the better. He sped up as he neared Feng’s place, then panicked, wondering if he would recognize it in the light of day. Everything began to look the same.

  When he figured he was within a few blocks, Boone called Feng’s cell. No answer. He texted him. Nothing. He soon realized that if he went any farther he would be past Feng’s neighborhood. Boone stopped in the shade, which cut the sting of the sun but didn’t seem to affect the temperature.

  Time was getting away from him. He couldn’t afford to miss the train to Tianjin, and he had to know what had become of his contact. Boone didn’t want to even entertain the possibility that Feng Li had been made. Without him, everything was lost. Boone would be adrift on a trackless sea. In desperation, he pulled up the photo of Feng on his phone and showed it to passersby. “Feng Li?” he said.

  The first few ignored him. A teenage girl stopped and studied the photo, then shook her head and said something in Chinese he assumed was an apology. Finally, an elderly woman carrying a baby boy scowled at the phone and barked something Boone could
not make out.

  “Sorry?” he said, realizing she wouldn’t understand him either.

  She shouted, as if angry, but he was able to recognize that she was simply repeating the name. “Feng Li!”

  Boone nodded vigorously, and she broke into a beatific smile. She beckoned him to follow and hurried down the street into an alley that began to look familiar. She pointed to a door. Boone spread his arms and smiled. “Thank you!” The woman just giggled, and when he pulled some yuan from his pocket, she cackled and shook her head and hurried off with the baby.

  Boone tried the door, then knocked. A neighbor’s curtain opened and a grim man peeked out. Boone waved and smiled. Nothing to see here. I’m harmless. Ignore me.

  He continued to check his phone, call, and text. The clock was his enemy.

  At long last he heard running on the sidewalk. Boone’s gun lay loaded in the bottom of his bag, but he wouldn’t pull it in a crowded neighborhood in the light of day unless his life was in danger. He tensed and was ready to spring into a defensive position—or offensive as the need arose.

  Flying around the corner came Feng, smiling and pulling his keys from his shoulder bag, a sheaf of rolled paper under his arm. “Sorry, sorry, sorry! Didn’t expect to take so the long.”

  “I’ve been calling and texting, man!”

  “I know! I was running. Better to just get here.”

  That’s what you think.

  He followed Feng inside, where the man leaned over the miniature kitchen table and spread the paper. It was a blueprint. “The Astor Hotel,” he said, beaming. “Easier to, to, ah, case! By memory, memorize. Cannot take. Too obvious.”

  “Where’d you get this?”

  Feng smiled shyly. “Have my places.”

  Boone noticed Feng needed a shave and was wearing the same clothes as the day before. “Have you slept?”

  He shook his head. “All night for the documents.”

  “Documents?”

  Feng dug in his bag and produced a passport and a driver’s license bearing his photo under the name Wang Xing. He also pulled out a badge wallet and ID, identifying Feng Li as a detective with the Tianjin Police.

  “I don’t understand,” Boone said.

  Feng brought up a photo on his phone. “From Dr. W. in Chicago. Got from Jack Keller, who got from Pitts’s assistant. Picture of Wang Xing.”

  The man in the picture wore glasses and had shorter hair than Feng, but they were roughly the same age and skin color. “Buy glasses, get haircut in Tianjin. Americans think we all look the like anyway.”

  “Okay, you’re going to be Xing. Then what? And what’s with the cop ID?”

  “Cover at lunch in Tianjin. Now you shave, take shower, I cook, we eat, I shave, take shower, we go. But first . . .” Feng made a dramatic show of spreading on the table before Boone two American Airlines tickets for the early morning flight the next day—one labeled Dean Booker, Boone’s alias, the other under Mark Tuttman. “Has to leave country with same identity he came with.”

  Boone cocked his head. “I don’t know about this,” he said. “You know the word jinx?”

  Feng shook his head, and Boone read surprise on his face that Boone wasn’t thrilled.

  “It means that you can mess something up by being overconfident. How sure are you this is going to go the way we want it to?”

  Feng picked up the tickets and waved them at Boone. “Not my idea. Chicago’s idea. They believe in you.”

  Their lips to God’s ears, Boone thought. Being home that soon was a dream, but he was resolute that he would not—could not—face Haeley without Max.

  Boone backed into the tiny lav and stripped down, stuffing his dirties into his bag and pulling out his fresh clothes. He quickly shaved and brushed, then slid everything outside the door before he turned on the shower—such as it was.

  While the stream was light, it sprayed all over the room. Boone wasn’t surprised it started cold, but he didn’t expect it to stay that way. He heard banging on the door.

  “So sorry! Forgot wrench!”

  “Wrench?”

  “For the hotter. Okay?”

  The door opened an inch, and what looked like an adjustable sink wrench appeared. Boone tried it on the Hot faucet, and while he felt very little more heat, the flow increased. Despite the tepid stream and his haste, he felt a lot better when he finished. Feng immediately thrust in a towel, and within minutes Boone was dressed and feeling like a new man.

  He emerged to the pungent odor of fried meat and dumpling skin. Boone was used to American-style pot stickers little larger than an orange section, but Feng placed on each of their plates a steaming creation about the size of half a grapefruit.

  Feng attacked his with chopsticks and was half finished when Boone asked if he had a fork.

  “No fork! You know expression, ‘When in Rome . . . ’?”

  “Sorry,” Boone said. “If we want to make our train, I’m going to have to eat this with my hands while you’re getting ready.”

  He found it delicious and filling.

  On the way to the station Feng told Boone that the train to Tianjin used to go four hundred kilometers an hour. “Now just 350 because of accident last year. No wheels. Nothing touch track. Run on magnetism. But all bullet trains slower now while government study the braking.”

  “Slower?” Boone said. “Three-fifty is over two hundred miles an hour.”

  “Faster than US train?”

  “Much.”

  Feng was moving fast but fortunately staying on the shaded side of the street, so Boone didn’t feel so overheated. And there was no running.

  The train station was crowded, but Feng quickly acquired their tickets and led the way through the terminal to their track. On the way, they passed a luxurious, high-end women’s shop with a sign translated into English: Lounging along with fashion, the elegance follows.

  Close enough, Boone thought.

  On the train he saw a sign bearing another attempt at English: Get on and off until the moving train is stabilized. And they passed seats with handicap symbols on them labeled, Only for the old and weak.

  Late in the evening in Chicago, Jack Keller, Antoine Johnson, and Ragnar Waldemarr sat in the first-floor coffee shop at Mount Sinai, waiting for Margaret. “You guys are like kids on Christmas Eve,” she had told him by phone earlier. “You won’t sleep till this is over.”

  “You got that right,” Jack had said. “It’s coming up on noon in China, and the thing isn’t going to happen until sundown. That’ll be like six thirty in the morning here, but we’ll be tapped in.”

  “You might as well keep me company here, then. Chaz wants to tell you something anyway.”

  “We could do that,” Jack said. “Beats sitting in the office or at some all-night restaurant.”

  Margaret finally arrived with Nurse Chaz Cilano in tow. The men all stood.

  “My, my,” Chaz said, “can’t remember the last time that happened. Sit down.”

  “Never happens for me,” Margaret said. “What do you want to drink?”

  But before Chaz could answer, Ragnar Waldemarr said, “Miss Margaret, I don’t know about these two louts, but I stood for the both of you.”

  “Why, thank you, Doctor.”

  “I’d say the same,” Chaz said, “but I make it a point not to thank doctors. They should be thanking me.”

  Jack was impressed that Chaz waited until Margaret returned with coffee for the two of them before she brought the rest up to date. “This is just an observation,” she said, “but it’s based on a lot of experience. All three of Haeley’s doctors were in today at the same time, and I don’t think I’m violating any confidences when I say they seemed more than encouraged.”

  “What does that mean?” Jack said. “She’s coming out of the coma?”

  “No, not until they make that happen. Normally, with an injury like hers, that should be another week or ten days. But I think they’re going to start adjusting her meds to see how she
responds. Her vitals have been improving so steadily, it’s like she’s fighting to come back.”

  Jack’s phone buzzed. “It’s Francisco Sosa,” he said. “Give me a minute.

  “Hello, Pastor.”

  “About to head to bed, Chief. Any updates, anything I can pray about specifically?”

  Jack shared the news about Haeley and added, “We’ve had major breaks in Max’s case and hope to have good news by dawn.”

  “Praise God,” Sosa said.

  Jack chuckled. “From anyone but you, that would sound hokey. But I’ve been thinking the same thing. That doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong, though, so if you’re praying, pray that Boone and his contact over there will be at their absolute best.”

  “I will,” Sosa said, and it struck Jack that in nearly forty years of police work, he had never asked someone to pray over a case. “You know I occasionally text people Bible verses, right?”

  “Do I!” Jack said. “Boone and Margaret show them to me all the time.”

  “Okay if I send you one?”

  “I thought you’d never ask.”

  “On its way in a few minutes. Good night, Chief.”

  Jack sat listening to his friends and colleagues banter, all nervously awaiting action from the other side of the globe. He wished it wasn’t too late to call Florence Quigley. How he hoped he would have good news for her the next day, which would be Independence Day in the US.

  His phone vibrated, and Jack found the text from Pastor Sosa. “I need a Bible,” Jack said, amused at the looks that elicited.

  “I’ve got one on my phone,” Margaret said, “but it’s upstairs.”

  “Let’s go get it,” Jack said. “I’m curious about this reference. Jeremiah 29:13.”

  “Oh, I know that one by heart, Jack. It’s a favorite. ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’”

  38

  Midday

  Boone had never been on a train that traveled by floating on a magnetic field. The bullet train proved smooth, eerily quiet, and lightning fast. It didn’t take long to reach its maximum allowable speed, and Boone couldn’t imagine that it used to travel nearly forty miles an hour faster. By the time it reached 215 miles an hour, the smaller towns and cities between Beijing and Tianjin were flying by. Boone found he missed the clackity cacophony of the Chicago L-trains, an experience that had never grown old for him. But silent swaying was interesting too.

 
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