Mammoth

Beijing, China
August 30

The pedal was missing. Jean Sabot knelt next to his blue and white bicycle. The right pedal was gone and the chain was broken. He had only been inside the tea shop for a few minutes, but it had been enough time for the thieves to remove the pedal, cut a link on the chain and vanish into the dense streets of the Chaoyan District in Beijing.

“C’est des conneries,” Sabot uttered under his breath.

A recent rash of bicycle pedal theft had sprung up in Beijing by a group of young school students going by the name Princes of Black. He stood looking down the narrow street, he knew they would be out there somewhere, watching him, laughing. The Chinese media had recently reported on the rise of youth gangs claiming most of them were under performing, ostracized students who were often ignored by their parents and dismissed by their professors and berating classmates. Stealing bike pedals had become the gang’s calling card. With over ten million bicycles in the city of Beijing, cyclists were an easy target for the young criminals.

Sabot quickly unlocked his bike from the stand and picked it up, carrying it on his shoulder. The light weight of the bike made it easy for his six foot four frame to bear.

What a sight this must be, thought Sabot. The World Health Organization’s representative in China, carrying his bicycle to work. Lucky for him he was only a few blocks away from his office.

The streets were bustling with activity as men and women prepared their store fronts. As Sabot made his way along the boulevards he came to an outdoor market, hoping to make up sometime he pushed through the crowds forming under the dark-green tents. It was very crowded. He got the kind of stares and jokes that he always gets in Asia because of his tall muscular frame and fair skin, but the Chinese were cheerful.

Today was an abnormally warm day and Sabot reached into his satchel’s front pocket fetching his white handkerchief to rub the sweat off his shaved head. Ever since he was a graduate student at Université Pierre et Marie Curie he had shaved his head. He had never enjoyed personal grooming and found styling his hair to be a waste of time.

Sabot had only recently accepted the representative position in Beijing. Prior to his new assignment he worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. As a young student he had been a part of the biomedical research team that first isolated the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus that causes AIDS, back in 1983. It was one of his proudest moments working at the institute. The team had discovered that the first few months following infection with HIV the immune system is unprepared to defend itself from the virus, allowing the virus to reproduce at very high levels. He helped develop the viral load test which allowed scientists to see the high levels of HIV in the blood – often higher than at any other stage of HIV infection. His team received critical acclaim from the medical society for their discovery. Over the years Sabot held many positions at the institute before being named the youngest Director of the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the age of twenty nine. But after decades of being cooped up in an office, often under piles of paper work, he decided to make a change and accepted the role as the WHO’s representative in China six months ago.

Sabot checked his watch. He was running late. He wanted to be at the office before his assistant, Wenling Tong arrived. She had taken the last week off to visit her mother who had fallen ill. From what Sabot understood Tong’s mother had been quite healthy until two weeks ago when she began suffering seizures and migraines. He had told Tong to take as a long as she needed but she reassured him she would be back at work today. He was excited to see her. Although Sabot had only been working alongside Tong for the last six months he felt lost without her by his side.

Inside his office, Sabot found Tong standing with her back to the door, bent over a filing cabinet. The sixth floor room had one window and grey walls decorated with photographs of children from across China. A personal reminder to Sabot that he was there to strengthen the national healthcare system to meet the needs of China’s children, ensuring all children in the country would one day have access to health care, particularly those living in rural areas of the country.

“Zǎo ān, jīntiānguò dé hǎo ma?” Sabot said. – Good morning, how are you today?

“Wǒ hěn hǎo,” Tong said shooing him away with her hand. –I’m fine.

“Well, it was bound to happen,” he said. “I have officially been welcomed to Beijing by the Princes of Black. They took my bike pedal this morning while I was getting some tea.”

Sabot placed his bike in the corner of the room and walked towards her. He noticed the dry blood on her forearm. Her hair was uncombed and she was wearing a sweat stained white T-shirt and khakis pants, not the well groomed appearance he had come accustomed to seeing from her.

“Wenling, what’s happened?” he asked.

She slammed the filing cabinet drawer shut. “Wǒ méiyǒu shíjiān gěi nǐ.” – I don’t have time for you.

Walking across the room Sabot noticed Tong was missing one of her sandals.

“Were you attacked Wenling?” he asked. “Is that…is that your blood? Please, tell me what is going on.”

Resting his hand briefly on Tong’s shoulder as she walked by him, she twisted away scratching his right hand with her nails.

“You don’t touch me,” she screamed.

Sabot blinked trying to understand why she lashed out. He held his hand; it was bleeding where Tong had scratched him. He took a step back towards his desk in the centre of the room and reached for a tissue to press against the cut.

“What has gotten into you?” he asked.

Before she could say anything there was a knock at the door. Two police officers entered the office. Dressed in freshly pressed black uniforms the men approached Tong.

“Nǐ shì wēnlǐng shì tang?” the younger of the two men asked. – Are you Wenling Tong.

Tong backed up against the wall, spread out her arms and lowered her head. She kept her eyes focused on the policeman in front of her. Sabot thought she was going to strike out like a cornered animal.

“Wēnlǐng shì táng, nǐ bèi dàibǔ.” – Wenling Tong, you are under arrest.

“Wait… what is this all about,” asked Sabot.

The second police officer stepped in front of Sabot. “This is none of your concern, sir.”

“To hell it isn’t,” said Sabot.

“Please stay back, sir. Miss Tong is wanted for murder.”

“Murder?”

Tong quickly looked at Sabot before she side stepped the approaching officer. She ran across the room and grabbed a pair of scissors from Sabot’s desk top. Both police officers reached for their guns and pointed them at Tong. They began screaming at her to drop the scissors and lay down on the ground. Sabot held his hands out and stepped in front of the two policemen, he had his back to Tong.

“Wait, I think there has been some sort of mistake. Wenling didn’t murder anyone. Please, please lower your guns,” said Sabot.

“Get out of our way now,” yelled the younger officer.

Sabot half turned to look at Tong who had been crouching behind him. As he made eye contact with her, Tong lunged forward and drove the scissors into Sabot’s neck puncturing his left carotid artery. Sabot gasped for air as Tong pulled the scissors out and plunged them down again between his neck and collar bone. Sabot grabbed his neck and fell to the ground. Blood spurted into his face, running in streaks across his cheeks and chin, his hands filled with blood but it was too much for them to handle as it splattered across the office floor. As his head hit the ground he saw the police officers shoot Tong in the chest, cartilage exploded from her torso, she dropped to the ground. Lying next to him; he could see the tears in her eyes. It was the last thing he saw as he took his final breath.