It turned out that the place Bo’s had spoken of was through the forest which was behind the houses of the possible witnesses Lilly and Mr. Hill had visited earlier. Mr. Hill pulled to a stop on the same road and killed the engine. He and Lilly got out and walked past the neat row of houses filled with sleepers ignorant of all that was about to take place in their tree-filled backyard. They walked until they entered the belly of the forest. Then they walked some more. About three miles in, Lilly and Mr. Hill were greeted by a large clearing in the middle of the forest. Despite the darkness, Lilly and Mr. Hill could see a train sitting on the tracks which ran through the clearing in the woods. They also spied the shadowy figures of men perched on the ground in front of it.
Mr. Hill shrank back behind a tree. Lilly did the same. He reported the scene before them to Bo through the earpiece Bo had given them so they could keep in touch.
“Bingo,” Bo replied, his voice shot through with static. “That’s the route they’re using to transport prisoners to labor camps—at least from here.”
“Oh? Is it normally done under the cover of darkness like this?” Mr. Hill asked.
“I don’t know. The one and only time I attended a ‘send-off’ was during midday. Even my attendance was unusual as no other civilians were present,” Bo said.
“Send-off?” Lilly said. “You make this sound so fun, like everybody’s going off to a ball somewhere instead of labor camp.”
“Whatever, kid,” was Bo’s solemn reply. “Focus in now.”
“Like a laser,” Lilly confirmed.
“If this timing of transportation isn’t normal, I suspect it’s because someone knows about Manchu being put on this train unlawfully,” Mr. Hill surmised.
Bo thought the same. “All the more reason we need to get Pastor Manchu out of their grasp quickly.”
“I’ll do that part,” Lilly said.
“Nice try, kid.” Bo’s chuckle came through Lilly’s earpiece. “There are some real psychos and sickos in the prisoner group who are deserving of labor camps.”
“No!” Mr. Hill objected. “If anything happens to you, I will never forgive myself. The task you have is risky enough. It is feasible for me to pass as a Chinese officer in the dark. I thought we went over this at Bo’s place.”
“Yes, Dad,” Lilly said. She sensed the parental concern in Mr. Hill’s voice, an overwhelming concern akin to no other, so she did not push him further lest worry overcame him completely. At that point of no return, Mr. Hill might very well ban her from joining in the rescue mission. Parental worry was not something Lilly particularly enjoyed, even though she appreciated it.
“Whatever you two do, don’t get caught,” Bo instructed them for the twenty-third time since proposing his plan. “If that happens, we’re put back to square zero, you all will be split up, and we all will be stuck in China like tar and feathers to a nude.”
Lilly stifled a laugh at Bo’s rather graphic comparison while Mr. Hill tried to keep a serious face. Bo continued. “No telling what will happen then. A rescue attempt won’t even be considered because everyone in charge will have been alerted to our first botched plan. So, again, don’t get caught. Now, I’ve secured the helicopter already and am on my way. Godspeed!”
With this, Lilly and Mr. Hill exchanged a hug, then went their separate ways. Mr. Hill stepped into the clearing while Lilly circled around it to reach the train. The nearer she got, the more she was able to overhear the conversation of several officers who were milling about. “How much longer till the train is fixed?” one of them asked circumspectly. “This is the second time it’s broken down tonight.”
So that’s the reason for the stalling, Lilly thought.
“I know that,” another male voice said. He blew in frustration. “The pig-headed engineers need to get it together or else we need to call in for another train.”
“I don’t think so,” the first person replied. “Cory wants these guys taken up there tonight. It’s already 2 a.m., and we don’t have time to wait for a send-in.”
“Yes, we do if we have time to wait for this jacked-up clunk to get fixed. I don’t have all night,” the second man whined.
“Kick your attitude down the road,” came a sniveling, heavily accented voice.
Lilly’s eyes, now accustomed to the darkness, followed a third officer who had come up behind the first two she was listening in on.
“Why? So I can run up and catch it,” the second man spat back.
The sniveling man did not laugh. “No, so the wind can blow it far away. My friend, you need something to keep you out all night. You have nothing to return to anyway.”
“Shut it,” came the second man’s reply. A small cigarette light soon glowed in front of his lips and lit up his face in an eerie orange haze. Just then, another man jogged up to the group of three. “Minho said the train’s fixed,” he reported.
This time the sniveling man laughed, only the laugh got caught up in his nose and came out as a snort. “Minho said the same thing last time. Ask him if he’s lying again.”
Even if he’s not, you’ll think he is because this train is not going anywhere in one piece, Lilly thought. She whispered to Mr. Hill why the train had paused. “Dad, hurry! It’s supposedly fixed now. They’re going to test it.”
Mr. Hill’s steady breathing came through Lilly’s earpiece. Finally his voice did the same. “Thank God for that and I’ve finally located Pastor Manchu. Do your thing, sweetheart.”
Lilly gripped the two flares and the small explosive device in her hands, then threw the first flare as far as she could to the right of the clearing. The other she flung into the trees a little farther away. They burst into fire at the same time, dancing devilishly against the dark sky. Lilly flicked the switch to begin the countdown on the improvised explosive device. Bo had said it would make a loud noise, a lot of smoke, and possibly a fire. She flung it in the direction in which she had thrown the first flare. Tiny sparks leaped out, choked, sputtered, and flew. Lilly watched the scene of confusion unfold before her eyes.
“Good job,” Mr. Hill said. “Live a little longer now to perform act two.”
Lilly laughed quietly. She overheard her father calling Manchu’s name and telling him to follow after him. Then she heard some rustling noises. Her heart fainted for a split second as one of the officers rushed past her yelling curses in Chinese. By now, Lilly was directly beside the train. She hopped aboard one compartment and ever so stealthily detached it from the crude passenger carriage it was connected to. This action sent a quarter of the train spiraling down the tracks. Lilly raced around the clearing to the spot where she knew her dad would be waiting with Pastor Manchu. Cries of alarm and joy and curses to the train’s derailment rose up from the crowd of prisoners and officials respectively. To Lilly’s delight, the mini blazes seemed to bombard their senses. Bo’s plan and Lilly’s execution of it were perfect. The flares and the train car detachment caught the officers off guard and allowed Mr. Hill an opportunity to sneak off with Manchu. When she reached the eastern tip of the clearing, Mr. Hill took Lilly’s hand and they disappeared into the forest. Manchu was in front of them. “Thank you so much!” he cried.
“Don’t thank us yet,” Lilly advised.
Right then, someone in the clearing barked, “Watch the prisoners!”