Chapter 16 Hong Kong
As the plane touched down In Hong Kong, I was jerked out of sleep. I had no idea what was going on in Michigan and that Claire was in danger, Yet my eerie feeling was working overtime. My father had made too many comments about an interruption and how life is filled with disappointments and challenges.
I was uneasy as I stepped out of my room and walked into the front cabin. Everyone else was more awake than me. Since we had landed everyone was ready to leave the plane.
I put on my fake smile while Clark briefed me. My mind drifted away from the conversation as we taxi’ed to our hanger. The window shades were all up, but all I saw were lights that flashed by. The plane glided to a stop, I jumped into the back seat of a black extended SUV with tinted windows, and was whisked off to a beautiful estate.
In this part of the world, the homes built on small islands are called estates. They are built to be impressive and signs of power.
I never experienced tour of the estate from the outside, but its size and modern features reminded me of Batman’s house from the famous movie series. It was built on a mountain side, so the “front” view was the bay. As I stood near a large picture window, which extended two stories high, I was captivated by the contrast between the overcast skies and the choppy waters. That same chill came over me that i had felt during our journey all the way here. I shook myself and refocused my attention on the house.
It was dark outside but there were enough light to get a good feel of the majesty of this place. The house was designed to offer two completely different experiences: a museum and a cosy home.
The SUV drove into the underground garage area. It was built similar to a parking structure you find a building built in a city center, with a winding entry/ exit drive that did a full circle from the point of entry outside the property, to the opened parking lot under the first floor. I couldn’t help feeling like we were traveling a bit in haste, like a taxi driver in New York trying to avoid a traffic jam.
Before heading into the elevator, a mused at a small collection of exotic cars, including a McLaren and Ferrari. As I rode the lift, I gazed out the window into the bay below. A ferry was docked nearby with an open cargo hold for at least two cars.
In the movie Batman, with Michael Keaton, he was sitting in a dinning room with Kim Basinger. It had a long dinning table, enough for at least 14 people. The scene was beautiful. The 2 sat in the room until she asked the question that was on my mind, “Do you really like this room?” He paused, looked around the room and gave an answer that was perfect. “I don’t think i’ve ever been in this room before.” Yes, this house was similar in size.
The inside had everything anyone could need or want. It spanned 4 levels above ground, and two lower levels, which included the carpark. The word basement doesn’t really fit here, with mammoth structures like this. There were a few hints of additional levels below the 2 levels beyond the panel of buttons in the elevator. One of the hints was a key hole on the same panelling. Since my folks had designed or purchased similar properties, the tell-tell signs were obvious. One of the obvious ones is the water level. I dont know a billionaire who would spend so much to build a home with the ground floor being raised so high.
The lift carried me to the third floor, where a man, who spoke Chinglish, greeted me and showed me to my room. He gave me a tour, including an interactive computer system that offered a virtual tour of the home and island. We offer similar services to our guests in several of our homes and yachts, so I grabbed the goggles and enjoyed a virtual tour, knowing someone would interrupt me at the right time. I was especially interested in the bay area out my window. I always liked to have the bird’s eyes view of the security detail that surrounded us in gatherings like this.
I guided myself through the virtual tour by touching an ipad. I didn’t come close to walking through the entire property, but here are a few highlights. Two pools, one inside and one out. To my surprise, there was only one cinema room.
I was summons to the party as I was taking a closer look at the car collection.
An-all-too-familiar accent announced to me that the party had started.
“Hello sir. Time to join the party.”
You will never guess what accent the voice used: British. Honestly, being in Hong Kong I didn’t expect an American accent, but considering how prominent this accent is such as Tony Stark’s and Batman’s butlers, I wasn’t surprised.
My room was located off a circular balcony. I exited and gazed down. Most of the faces were familiar. Everyone from the plane had arrived and a few new faces were added to the crowd. Knowing I had exited on cue, my father glanced up and gesture for me to join.
Everyone in the room, except me, seemed to know everyone else. If you wanted to appraise the value of the room based the men and women standing within about 30 feet from me, my guess would be in excess of $200,000,000,000. Ironically, I really don’t know the value of my own family, but you get the idea. When meetings like this take place, it’s hard to imagine the level of security and who in the local police station and military outposts were alerted.
Sometimes, or perhaps often, they schedule meetings like this to see if anyone in the ‘group of friends’ such as local police, private security, and military are on the take from an unknown third party. In other words, this party and its list of guests were probably scheduled 2 or 3 times before the gathering happened.
However, the Tony Stark comparison was a good one. There were no boats passing by my window, but two yachts, probably 60 to 80 feet long were patrolling the bay. I’m guessing of course, but when I watched them with my goggles during the tour, since I know a thing or 2 about security, they drove passed the front of the home in an erie way. Few lights were on, and only crew members were up and moving around. One might suggest that the other passengers were sleeping, but I’ve been on enough yachts to know, on a beautiful night like this, there is never a time when everyone sleeps, at twilight.
Based on their pattern, the boats were doing their rounds. Inside and out of sight were the crew members, heavily armed and ready if needed. However, they are seldom needed. My father and mother had attended many such meetings and no threat was ever mentioned.
I was heading down the stairs when I felt the erie stillness I had felt before. I had no fear of an interruption but I knew, somewhere, someone knew that this party wasn’t about champagne, drgs, and prostitutes. It was about billion dollar acquisitions and symbolism. Before this day had passed, Asian investors from Hong Kong would be signing a deal with a few Europeans and at least three families from American. To the best of my knowledge, the deal was unprecedented.
The point is I did not fear for my life one bit. And since members of the Hong Kong government were in attendance, as well as other countries, I was probably in one of the safest places in the world at that moment.
I joined my father and said hello to a friend of our family from America. He had not been on our plane, but it was nice to see a familiar face. A couple of hours passed, papers were signed and there was mention of another meeting about 6 hours later.
It was at this point that I started to relax and accepted that my erie suspicions had been all in my imagination. I excused myself and went for soak in the hot tub. It reminded me of the shower earlier, just more relaxing.
chapter 17 Mr lee heads back
As mr lee waited in his hotel, he found some comfort that getting him back would be a greater task than the hansons knew. He had just sent his location and other details and was waiting for his security detail to drive him to the airport. His security officer had guessed that they would leave in about 1 hour.
not more than 10 minutes had passed and his security head called him back.
“We will leave now.”
You’re being rerouted – apparently a call just went in to the local mayor. They’ve offered clearance for us to fly out as soon as we can get you there — about 20 minutes.
“You must know some important people.”
“How often does this happen?”
“Not often — heads of states and people who own airports and private planes.”
chapter 18 — bad news
Although I was in arguably one of the most beautiful locations and homes in the world, I felt lonely. Our plane was scheduled to leave in less than 6 hours, so I tried to just take it in. While soaking in the silence, my quiet was interrupted. My father entered the room with the phone to his ear. I knew he was talking with my mother and I knew something bad had happened.
“Hold on. Let me give Michael the phone.”
That eerie feeling jumped back on me like stink on a skunk. I took the phone, knowing the news was not good, but unable to imagine what it could be.
“Allow me to get to the point quickly.”
Oh shit; the interruption. Something has happened to claire.
“Claire has been in a car accident.”
My eyes teared up.
“She was traveling with two other girls. They were in our SUV driving on the west side, when a drunk driver ran a red light.”
“Is she. . .?” I couldn’t ask the obvious question.
“Claire is alive. The other girls were pronounced dead at the scene. They took the brunt of the impact, as both were in the back seat. Old faithful was able to protect Claire.”
Her voice cracked slightly, suggesting she was trying to sound positive. Mom is not good at hiding stuff from me.
“How bad is Claire’s condition?”
“Stable. She’s in surgery now.” I noticed how she spoke quickly, trying to avoid the tremble.
“When did this happen— how long ago?”
“I’ll give you more information later. Hours ago, but I knew if I had called you when I learned of it, you would have worried, so I waited until I had more to report. All you need to know is Claire is in good hands and the doctors’ latest reports look good. As you can imagine, we have doctors flying in from wherever. We are doing everything we can. Claire is family now.”
Again i heard a tremble in her voice.
“No limits mom. Whatever she needs, right??”
“Yes. I’m personally overseeing her care with Teddy’s help.”
“Good. Tell Teddy thanks.”
Teddy was always there for me. He had saved my life more than once. I think he really likes his job, and I know he knows he is irreplaceable.
I felt the anger rise, but i couldnt determine who i was angry with. For a moment, perhaps a split second, I was angry that she had delayed the news. But I acknowledged my stupidity, and turned my emotions towards the people behind this attack. Yes, I meant attack. A drunk driver? I didn’t believe that for even a second.
Guilty feelings that I had caused this also came over me, but I pulled myself together long enough to say the only words I could say to my mom.
“Ok, thanks for the update.” My lower lip quivered as I spoke.
I waited, because i knew my mother wanted to say more.
“Since the accident happened on the west side, Claire was sent to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. . We plan to have her transferred to ————————— bonsecour – , so she is closer to home, once she is ready to travel.”
“Mom, do you mean ‘once’ or ‘if’?”
“Michael, remain positive. I will share with you the details later. Just know, everything is being done to help her. We wont know more until she is out of surgery, but you must remain positive.
“Remember, she is young, in great health, and she will fight. She is in love with the most wonderful young man in the world and she has her whole life ahead of her. She will fight for life. — um, As I spoke with her mother, Virginia, she told me how shocked and delighted Claire was that you were back in her life. She’s going to fight for her life Michael, for your life together. But I want you to keep yourself together. You have a long flight back. When you return, everyone is expecting you to be by her bedside.”
“Hang in there Michael. I know things ‘ll be ok.”
I know my mother. Her tone said she wanted to say more. I didn’t know what to say, so I just agreed and thanked her for the call. Then it hit me why my father had mentioned the European conflict at the time he had — he was preparing me for possible bad news. Then he mentioned it again to prepare me for the actual bad news.
“Dad?” He knew the question that was coming.
“Yes. The accident happened before the signing of the papers.”
I had already stepped out of the hot tub and I was pacing. I had put on a towel, a reflex-unconscious action, but I looked a bit silly. Once my father said the comment about the papers, my whole body began to shake. I had never felt so terrible in my life as I did at that moment. The woman I loved was in the hospital and might die. Although I was speculating, again, it looked like her relationship to me is what put her in harms way, potentially death. If she didn’t die, her road to recovery would be her greatest challenge in life and no one could say if she would ever be the same girl we all knew and loved.
The dream I had, presented her has perfect. Even her sinful thoughts, as we had been taught by our religion, were viewed by God as beautiful. I did not perceive her as a sinner, but merely enjoying the beautiful, perfect body God had given her and she was saving it for that special someone, her husband.
The time was too coincidental. My eerie gut feelings, this meeting, it was all adding up. This was no car crash from a drunk driver. I was willing to bet that as more details came in, my folks would be honest and would admit how this meeting had placed claire at risk.
“Was this a message to us not to sign the deal?”
My father knew I was speculating.
“Michael, you know we can’t conclude that until our sources confirm. Let’s draw conclusions later.” He paused, knowing sooner or later the answer would be yes, “Similar events have happened in the past.”
“I need to get back to Michigan and be with Claire. Now.”
“I’m so sorry that his happened son. Your mother’s report about Claire is faithful. Focus on it. We’ll be assisting the Lee’s to provide whatever is needed to offer Claire a full recovery. I have already informed our friends upstairs that we need to leave as soon as we can. They are making arrangements. Our flight time has been moved. We will be back on the plane within 1 hour. But you need to accept that there is nothing you can do for her right now, accept pray and think positively about her full recovery.”
Pray. I always laugh when I hear my father say that word. I guess its because when I think about asking the white hair old man, who we call the Christian God, to intervene, it always seems like a one-sided agreement. But more on this later. Religion gives us a bunch of rules about how to please God and those rules confuse us far more than they help us.
Although my training in hypnosis never ruled out God, so much of my religious training had proven meaningless, including my guilt for my sexual sins and the requirement to confess them to the priest. My training in the conscious and unconscious mind taught me a lot about religion, generally. But that is another topic for another day.
We didn’t say much more to each other. Instead, he stayed near me. Together, we stared out the window at the dark night. We knew each others temperament. Just being together was enough. On occasion, I would get a thought that maybe I could yell at my father for not warning me, but no one, including me knew when I would take that step to say hello to Claire. So it made more sense to blame the dream’s bad timing, compared with either of my parents. When bad things happened to me in the past, I learned an important life lesson. Don’t blame the people you love because they are doing the best they can. Blame someone or something else. Keeping bad feelings against those close to you, in the end, does not work to your benefit.
I also considered the idea that the dream, since it never definitively revealed that she would be my wife, perhaps was just a set up. Maybe Claire was supposed to be, somehow, the sacrifice. My high school love was supposed to die as a test from God, the creator of the universe, to see if I could get past this. This wasn’t a dope argument, after all, Timothy had mentioned, on more than one occasion, that it would ultimately be my choice to if I wanted to be with her.
There was no fate, the more you understood the universal law. You attract to yourself negative and positive people and events. When you understand this, life becomes more predictable.
The more you attract the right people because of your inner-self, life gets easier.
I glanced at my father, unaware of how much time had passed since he had spoken the comment about prayer. I knew that I was the last one to be told this news. For this I was thankful. My mother knows that giving me news quickly that isn’t good is never my favorite option.
My eyes watered. I wanted to say something to my father, but I didn’t know what to say. I was helpless. I had imagined making love to Claire less than 1 day ago. It may have been the my most memorable shower ever. Now I was heading home to a girl who might not even recognize me. Based on my mother’s report, the other girls had been killed at the scene. The accident was brutal.
I motioned to my father that I wanted to be alone, so I excused myself and returned to my room. As I arrived there, I fell in my bed and tried to cry, but other emotions were fighting for my attention, like anger and revenge.
I cuddled up like a baby on the bed and imagined standing next to Claire’s hospital bed, holding her hand. My imagination went for the worst, like she didn’t remember who I was, so her mother had to update her regarding the last few days and our relationship. Since I had read stories about people having memory loss after terrible accidents, I figured she might not remember our 2 glorious days.
As my mind raced, fears of the future haunted me.
I am peaking through the door in the hospital. Claire is awake but struggling to understand her surroundings. Her whole body is in a cast, both arms and legs broken. She had been in and out of crying and sleeping, but now she is awake and lucid. I walk in the room. She is surprised that I am there, and she is not interested in seeing me.
“Mom, why is Michael here?”
“Claire, you don’t remember anything?”
“What do you mean? Michael goes to our church and my high school, but he hardly knows who I am. Some of the girls even joke that he sometimes forgets my name.”
I stand there feeling embarrassed, even shame. I think others see me turn red and shake a little.
Her mother moves in closer to comfort her, grabbing her hand and brushing Claire’s hair away from her forehead.
“Michael met with you a few days ago. He told you he loves you and wants to be with you. We were all surprised, but then we all realized that he has loved you since high school. You don’t remember?”
“No.” Claire feels so confused that she looks at me. “Michael, I don’t understand. You never asked me on a date. You kissed other girls when you knew I liked you and was watching. I am supposed to believe now that you always liked me?”
I just nod. I know words won’t change anything. My only role is to be her friend. To start from the beginning. I am ready to be the one who will stay by her side while she heals. The one who will remind her how beautiful she looks, regardless of any scars on her face or body. I will be the one to reinforce to her the value I gave to her before I knew she might be less than what some might call whole. If her injuries affected her reproductive organs, we might even need to adopt. None of this mattered.
I know. The movie was a worst case scenario, but different variations played more than once. When you are sitting alone in a foreign country and you are trying to understand and obey dreams, all kinds of ideas go through you mind.
None of this mattered. Somehow, between the love I felt for her in high school and the impression the dream had made on me of her, I was in this for better or for worse.
Most of my thoughts about having sex with Claire seemed at bay now. As my imagination steamed forward, I caught glimpses of how I had originally felt during the dream, such as the euphoric feelings and angelic insights. She was no longer a sexual creature that could fulfill all my sexual needs and desires. She was still the most beautiful and perfect creature to me and my responsibility. Unless the facts changed, she was laying in that hospital bed because I had made the choice to be with her, and a group of our enemies had tried to kill her.
Upon returning to Michigan, my first order of business after visiting Claire was to meet with Timothy, face to face, and he would help me sort this. Until then, the conclusion that comforted me the most was I had a dream, I acted on it, and all of these events followed. I was ready to see this through.
I also considered getting angry at the universe, or God the creator, for sending me the dream at the wrong time, but I that argument seemed really stupid to me.
After allowing myself to wonder into the worst case scenarios, I remembered to focus back on my mom’s words. In truth, no one would know anything until an unknown time. Even if surgery was successful, she might slip into a coma.
In the past, I had heard the word stable to describe serious accident victims. What this sometimes meant is their heart was still beating and their brain waves were moving, but memory loss is very common, so to me stable meant she wasn’t going to die today.
Somehow I knew this wouldn’t matter. Sooner or later, her memory would return and she would be mine — or so i was hoping. For some strange reason, even this made me pass doubt. In fact, I kept reminding myself that the dream meant we were supposed to be together, even though it never actually stated this. I decided to keep telling myself this. It did help a little.
As I lay in the bed, I felt many conflicting feelings. I was thankful that the chatter from the party had disappeared. If someone was still visiting in the great room, they were quiet. This was nice because I didn’t want to go back to the party and put on smile. Chances are everyone at the party had been informed about Claire, so I also didn’t want to join a group of people who wanted to tell me how sorry they were.
I wanted to be alone, but I also figured dad would check in on me soon and see if I wanted to talk about anything. He knew not to pry, but he was always ready to listen.
Mustering up the courage to get my mind on something else, I picked up the goggles and got busy doing planning. As I toured the house again, I imagined how Claire and I would decorate her parent’s home when returning from the hospital. I was trying to be responsible, so I imagined building a ramp at the entry for Claire’s wheelchair. Each scene put on smile on my face, for the more I dove into this fantasy world, the better I felt.
I imagined us talking about decorating her rehab room. Strangely enough, she liked most of what I liked and agreed with me on most of my choices. No surprise.
When my mind drifted back to reality, I also considered calling mom. This desire came up at least 20 times while I waiting to be summons for the plane. Yet each time I headed towards the door to ask dad for a phone, I found myself imaging the call. I would ask my mother for updates, and she would assure me that she would call if there were any. In the end, I did not make any calls.
I had been asked to join this party because my father wanted me with him and he wanted his Chinese and Hong Kong friends to be reminded that my father and I are committed to each other and that I am doing well. If something happened to my father, everyone knew I was the go to guy. For his I was honored.
China loves symbolism and my father knew how to offer it to them. I felt proud to be part of this, but I also knew that if I had stayed home and been the person driving Claire, the message sent by these people may have involved killing me. At least now, I had the chance to go and get them. Yes. I knew I would begin to plot revenge. However, to plot this, I would need my family resources and perhaps the resources of those who were in attendance.
Although a few wise people in my life warned me against plotting revenge, my guess was they had gone against their own advice during their careers. This included my parents. In fact, imaging standing over an almost dead body of one of the perpetrators who was involved in arranging this incident also grabbed my imagination. Being there as they died brought me a little comfort.
chapter 19 the plane ride back
Before I entered the plane, I had the chance to speak with most of the people who had attended the party. Everyone wished Claire a full recovery but no one spoke of the accident. I appreciated this. I really didn’t want to think about it any more than I had already thought about it, or any more than I would think about it.
My return to the plane was similar as when I had first boarded, quick and secret. I was boarding a different plane, but it was structurally fairly similar, including a small private room in the back, my cubby hole. I jumped in and waited. The take off happened within 30 minutes, and I heard our Hong Kong friend, Mr Lee, back on the plane. I like him. As we soared to 30,000 feet, I peaked out of my door and tried to eavesdrop. I could not get the full conversation, but they all seemed to agree that if an enemy did this to Claire, they would prepare a memorable response. This usually includes people dying.
After about 3 hours of travel, they called me to join them.
Mr Lin, who I was quickly growing fond of, opened with encouragement and assurance.
“Michael, I can understand why you withdrew from the party and guests. I want you to know my family and I, as well as all the guests at the party, feel terrible about what has happened to your Claire.” When someone says, “your ——“ its intentional. “We have experienced similar events in the past, a very long history, unfortunately. The good news is we always get to the bottom of these ‘affairs.’”
“Thank you sir.”
“Many years ago, I was overseas, away from Hong Kong, when my office informed me that a colleague and old college friend of mine had been kidnapped. His family had called the authorities, which is connected to my office. A manhunt was started. They dispatched our men, similar to your CIA and British MI6. Within about 1 week, we had answers and we had more or less remedied the situation.”
I just looked at him and smiled, not knowing what to say.
“My point is we are handling this.”
I didn’t say it but I thought, “I will also handle this.”
After I had spent time fantasizing about being with Claire, taking care of her, and planning our home, my mind switched gears. I started thinking about my military background. I spent 4 years at one of the most prestigious military schools in the world. I had learned how to fight and how to kill. I had learned how to survive if I had been dropped in the middle of a forest and left to die. I knew I would not be able to stay my Claire’s side every minute of every day for what might be months.
My mind had plenty of time during travel to do one thing: plan how to fill my schedule.
I decided to take a bold move and ask a question, whose response I did not know if I was ready to hear.
“Mr Lin. If you don’t figure this out in the next week, can I join your team and help?”
I could tell he wasn’t surprised by the question.
“Yes. You have military training, correct?”
“Yes, but I’ve not killed anyone — yet.”
He laughed, “I came from a different time, a different generation. I have killed people. I have also made phone calls and then someone mysteriously died. Trust me, its not a pleasant road.”
The death conversation had begun, so I opened the door further. “Has my father killed or made a phone call?”
Mr Lin was old school. I couldn’t imagine offering him a question that he wasn’t prepared for.
“That’s his story to tell you. Like we say, each man should brag and cry according to his own actions.” He laughed. I figured if the answer was “no”, he would have said it.
It was obvious he wanted me to become more candid, so I took the bait.
“Have you or your colleagues ever planned a similar event, meaning having someone killed like this?”
“No. Not something this far removed from the equation. To be candid Michael, this move doesn’t sound rational.”
“What do you mean?”
“No country or billionaire business cartel is going to threaten to kill another billionaire son’s girlfriend to stop a billion dollar acquisition. None of this makes sense. Honestly, I think more is going on behind the scenes.”
My attention was perked.
“Please, tell me more.”
My father entered back into the room and took his seat.
“Richard, Michael is starting to use his investigation skills.”
“Good.” He looked at me. “Go on.”
“My family teaches the importance of being candid, Mr Lin. Dad, we were just talking about why Mr Lin believes there is more going on here than just a message ‘dont do the deal or we will kill Claire.”
“Correct. This is why I didn’t call the meeting off. In the end, meaning after an investigation, we still don’t know everything. But one thing I’m counting on is to see whose ‘finger print’ is on this job.”
“Wait,” I interjected. “Is it possible that Claire’s accident was only an accident? Is that possible?”
“Unlikely,” They both said.
“Michael, do you think the coincidence is a little too much?”
“Of course. but in fairness, would this have happened if I had been the one driving? Would Teddy have been able to divert this from happening?” I paused while staring into the space. “In other words, how safe am I?”
“Son, we will know more details when we return to Michigan. A full investigation is being done by our people.” He looked at Mr Lin. “I love it when the FBI or Marshall’s office arrive at one of these scenes. The locals always have questions and are more than happy to let the feds handle it with their resources. We make a lot of friends with the locals this way.”
Mr Lin nodded. “Yes Richard, same in Asia.” He chucked. I was highly confident their comments were only spoken for my sake. Both of them know, very well, how things were handled.
“So, Mr Lin, dad, how did this ‘accident’ fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI?”
Dad was ready for this one. “As soon as the police checked either her ID or Old Faithful sends a security alert. In this case, the alert came from the SUV.”
“Michael, next to your mother, you are my greatest asset. So Claire is no longer just Claire. Claire is a person of great interest. She is protected. The police database doesn’t know all the details, but she was flagged as a POI and to contact the FBI or Marshall’s service.”
“So the car accident happens, a little flag comes up under her name, and the FBI arrives.”
“Any police incident?”
“Yes. Same for you, but when you travel, you also have security nearby. Hell often in the car with you.”
Mr Lin and my father laughed together at this one. After all, in the plane there were at least 2 armed men.
“Is it necessary?”
They both nodded yes.
“Because, young Michael, if anything happens to you, we don’t pay ransoms. We will not be extorted. When the police or EMS see the message in the computers, they know the protocol. It’s in the computer as a POI, person of interest.”
“Is this true in every country?”
“Yes.” again in unison.
“Let me see if I got this right. After Claire was in the accident. Our computer sent a message that Claire was in danger. The computer flagged it with a POI code, and they made a call to dispatch. They then contacted the feds, who went to the scene. At this point, the scene falls under our jurisdiction and an investigation begins.”
Really, none of this should have surprised me. I knew I had eyes on me all the time, but even Mr Lin had called Claire my girlfriend. The gesture was not to insult my commitment to her, rather, it was to suggest how our enemies were most likely interpreting the events as outsiders.
“Ok. But I still feel guilty that she is in trouble because she’s mine. I mean, if I hadn’t gone to speak with her, she wouldn’t be in the trouble, correct?”
“Son, most obvious explanation in cases like this is usually the likely one. I believe because you’re dating her, she’s a target. The question is why? Killing her or trying to kill her is not going to stop the deal.”
“You can talk with Timothy about the guilt feelings you’ll be feeling over this. However, realize that we all make hard choices. No one’ll tell you can’t fall in love, start a family, and so on. Many choices we make come with risks. Don’t allow this to stop you from living your life.”
My father was right, but I still felt the guilt.
The flight was almost over. We would land in Hawaii in less than 1 hour. From there the total flight time was about 10 hours.
I had returned to my cubby hole to get some rest, but I was too restless. I was ready to take a sleeping pill as soon as we transferred planes. The transfer would take about 10 minutes. Our connecting flight would be on stand by.
We had just finished a meeting to acquire interest in billions of dollars in real estate and yet it all felt like a meaningless symbolic gesture. I heard myself thinking out loud. “What the point?”
Laying in my bed restless, a knock came.
My father entered.
“Mom called. Claire is out of surgery. Her heart is strong and her brain is active, but she remains sleeping. I won’t give you all the details. They are expected the usual PTSD symptoms including memory loss. I could go on, but we will wait and see.”
Yes, studying PTSD was part of my therapy and military training.
As he spoke this, I thought about my fantasy. The one where she didn’t remember our last few days together.
“Do you think she’ll remember me?”
“Son, no one can forget you. Your mother told me ‘remind Michael to keep the faith. Claire will pull through this.’”
“So she is more stable than before huh?”
“Yes. Mom mentioned something about more surgeries, but I think they’re letting her body rest now. You should too. We’ll land in about 30 minutes. After we transfer, which should take less than 10 minutes for you, I want you to try and get some sleep.”
I nodded and put a sleeping pill in my pocket, planning to down it after the transfer.
stopped june 30 8a
Everything went like clockwork. I slept like a baby for another 4 hours. When I awoke, all the passengers were new, except father. I slumped down in the chair next to him knowing only small talk would work. Other passengers asked me about my travels, so I told him how nice Hawaii had been.
I still felt guilty that Claire was in the hospital because of her connection to me, but there was a kind of magic that Mr Lin had offered me. I knew most of what we had discussed, but listening to a prominent leader from Hong Kong assure me that our people were investigating the accident, left me feeling much less alone.
I decided to break an earlier rule also. I called mom to check on a progress report. As I had figured, nothing had changed. Claire was stable and I would be able to see her once I returned. They had set a nice room for her at a hospital called Beaumont. It was about 15 minutes drive from the airport.
“Dad. Thanks for taking me on the trip. It was nice seeing and meeting new people.”
“Everyone enjoyed meeting you. It’s always good for our colleague to see the young blood growing and making good choices.”
I hesitated to start the next conversation, but it kind of slipped out.
“Do you think Claire will remember me, I mean the good times?”
“I think she will, but remember, its kind of adventurous thinking what you’ll need to do if she doesn’t. Maybe you’ll get to relive some of those moment and rewrite the script.”
I always liked how my father sees the good in things.
“My advice. Don’t say too much. Just sit near her, hold her hand, if you can, and kiss her on the forehead. You know the research, even if she is still in a deep rest, as reported earlier, science tells us our loves ones hear our voices.”
Chapter 20 back home.
As we made our descent into Detroit, Michigan’s city airport, my heart was pounding. All I could think about was seeing Claire and letting her know I had returned. I wanted to tell my dad about the dream I had and get some advice from him on that also, but my gut said that I would find the right words at the right time.
Timothy had really said it all. If Claire wanted to know, she would have asked. Often a mystery makes life more exciting. Every once in a while, I heard a voice that said she still wasn’t out of danger. Investigations were on going and she wasn’t up and walking, instead, she was arguably in a light coma.
I simply didn’t care. I knew that we were together for a reason and I had every intention of making each moment count.
I felt the airplane touch down and head to our hanger. The window shades were up, so I saw our SUVs approaching. All we had to do was leave the plane and race to the hospital. It was so close, so there was no need for a helicopter.
Mom greeted me at the airport. Her smile was big, so my confidence grew. Then she offered a hug and kiss.
“Here’s the update. Claire is resting. She will have at least one more surgery in the next day or so. All she does is sleep, and her vitals are stable. When she does open her eyes, we aren’t sure how much she knows because she does say much, but while sleeping, on more than one occasion, she did seem to make a sound that sounded like, ‘michael.’”
“I know. Dad and I had a similar talk earlier. Did you mention my name or talk about the accident?”
“No. She is aware something has happened, but the doctors told us to tell her bring it up.”
“Did the FBI update you yet on the accident? Do we know any more about if it was an accident?”
“No. I don’t expect those updates for at least a couple days, often longer.”
“Any advice to me about Claire?”
“Yes. When you go in there, you may feel, I don’t know, uncomfortable. Her room is filled with life support equipment and her body is in a few casts.”
“I was by her bedside earlier and her mother was also there. I don’t know if she remembered me. If she did, she was confused as to why I was there.”
“Ok. I’m ready to go.”
We arrived at the hospital in about 15 minutes and mom escorted us directly to her wing. Every step I took closer to her room, my legs got shakier, and my mind wondered about what I should say.
I first peaked into the room and mom had predicted it well. I felt sick. Claire had multiple machines going and she was sound asleep. Her mother noticed us being timid, still standing outside the door, so she quickly dashed to where me and my mother were hiding, just beyond the door jam. My father was a few steps behind us, keeping quiet. He was so interested to see if she would remember me. Each time I glanced at him, he winked at me. He was here for the show and he knew I would not disappoint. His confidence that Claire would recover was really feeding me, and I needed this type of encouragement.
My father was the watcher and listener. My mother was the listener and talker. They got along well because of this.
Virginia met us at the door and, it felt awkward as she offered me a hug. I received it with open arms and whispered in her ear, “Thanks for letting us help.” I wanted to say more, but i limited the drama.
I heard her muffled sobs. Then she released her hug and looked into my eyes. Robert Lee had just stepped into the hall. Nearby and quiet.
“Your family’s support has meant the world to us. It doesn’t matter what happens in the next few days, or if she remembers your wonderful entrance back into her life, our lives. We’ll work through all of this together.”
I nodded and stared back into the room at the bed with the lifeless body.
“Go. I have even mentioned your name and your family, multiple times. She squeezed my hand when I did.” When she said this, she sort of looked away, suggesting maybe not.
As I passed through the door, it was then that I felt the nerves really hit me. All the emotions I had been experiencing griped me stronger than they had before, including the guilt of putting her in danger. Until I had a full report, I felt responsible at least in part for her being in the accident. Maybe Timothy would help me see this differently later, and maybe not. A part of me didn’t want to change that narrative, regardless.
Her mother kept nudging me to go near Claire’s bed. There was some bruising on her forehead and cheek areas, so most of her face was covered, but I gazed at her beautiful eyes and her lips. There was a slight cut on her upper lip, but that would heal.
I found myself kneeling at her side. Her right hand was laying on the bed, the rest of the arm in a cast. I asked her mother with gestures if I can grab her hand and give it a squeeze. She motioned yes.
As I grabbed the hand gently, I felt movement. It was very slight. I looked into her eyes to see if she might open them. The eye balls were moving behind, but the eye lids stayed closed.
I focused back on the hand, wanting to be gentle but also wanting to announce my presence. Her mother leaned in again, using the right side of the bed.
“Hi Claire. Michael is here to see you. If you can hear my voice, squeeze his hand.”
I felt a squeeze. The second after I felt it, i considered it might be my imagination. Claire’s mother looked back at me. It was my turn.
“Hi Claire.” My voice broke. It was so odd standing there with her mother listening as I spoke to Claire. Her mother did not get the hint as I patiently waited for her to step back and sit down in a chair nearby. Instead, she wasn’t going anywhere. Her mother wanted to hear and see it all. I could hardly blame her. Claire was their only daughter, so she wanted to see how Claire would respond. Any sign of life would be empowering to this almost lifeless body, wrapped up in bandages, from head to toe. Only a day before, Claire had been enjoying her life to the fullest.
I was ready to say more, but words kept escaping. No matter what i said, it won’t be enough. Once I convinced myself of this, I spoke.
“This is Michael, Claire. I’m here for you as you heal.”
Her eye lids showed no sign of attempting to open. I just knew, if only for a moment, she would open her eyes, look at me, and know I was with her, that would be enough for me.
There were bandages covering different sections of her face, including just above her eye brow and cheek area.
As though opening her eyes was too exhausting, they remained shut. She was alive and most of her organs were functioning. What more could i ask for?
It was now a waiting game. I didn’t care if she didn’t recognize me at that moment, because sooner or later, should would. I kept telling myself this.
My life had been too easy up until about 24 hours earlier. Now if felt beyond any challenge I could have dreamed of. I almost heard myself saying, “This isn’t fair.” I quickly changed the expression to “And I love this!” The words felt hollow as my mind pressed towards scenarios for revenge. Guilt and anger continued changing places as my emotional state pressed forward.
I sat in a chair near her bed and the haunting words came.
“Don’t worry Michael, there will be interruptions.”