Thank god the exchange rate was favorable. Oh, Jilly knew she was getting cheated, but she also knew she’d gotten herself the best deal possible, especially given that the only Mandarin she spoke was nǐhǎo and xièxiè , and she didn’t speak Shanghainese at all. The pawnbroker spoke more English than he was letting on, she could tell, but she was--
No. She wasn’t desperate; desperation was something that happened to other people. She was just short of time and short of money, bruised and black-eyed where that stupid Welshwoman had punched her in the face. The face!
Jilly handed over her diamond earrings without regret.
“Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?” Jilly asked painstakingly. The pawnbroker - a different one, this time - looked at her like she had just called his mother a horse. She probably had; her pronunciation was abysmal and she knew it. Maybe it was her face. The Families had her in a five-star hotel, but it had only been rented through the end of the week, so she’d had to move into a different, smaller, cheaper hotel, with only a single florescent light over the bathroom mirror. While she’d covered her bruises the best she could, it was impossible to get anything right in light like that.
“Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?” she asked again, more slowly. He had to speak English. Everyone spoke English.
“Yes,” the pawnbroker said, and she could have cried with relief.
“Oh, thank god,” Jilly said. “Look. I need to sell this bracelet.” She held it out to him, repeating herself louder just in case he didn’t understand. “BRACELET.”
It was diamonds and rubies, a Christmas present from - some ex-boyfriend. An investment banker. She didn’t remember which one; she liked dating bankers. They were so uncomplicated. And rich.
“I need you to give me money for the bracelet . MONEY. CASH. Xiàn qián.”
Negotiating was getting much easier.
3. A Girl’s
The problem was that she wasn’t Jilly anymore. Jilly would have bought her way out of China within a week, but Jilly had stayed in California. Lucy Statten Meredith had been smuggled into Shanghai, had checked into a hotel, had credit cards linked to accounts that no longer existed.
The Families had been insistent: She was forbidden from bringing any identification other than what they provided. So she had a full set of paperwork for Lucy - driver’s license, passport, visa, credit cards, even a library card - but nothing else. Thank god that the identity was holding up, even if the money wasn’t.
Yesterday she’d pawned a rose gold necklace to pay for her room, using what was left to pay for food. Mostly Jilly ate rice and noodles (and sometimes dumplings), and even though portions in Shanghai were so small, she was sure she was gaining weight from all the carbo-loading. (It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the meat in Shanghai - well, actually, it was. She felt safer with the noodles.)
She’d thought of trying to contact someone at PhiCorp to get her out of here - this had to be a PR nightmare; they needed her! But when she tried, all the direct lines were disconnected, and no one in the call center believed who she was, and refused to do more than take a message. The fact was, even if she had been able to get through, they had bigger things to deal with than one former employee. Jilly was very good at recognizing the truth (and equally good at twisting it, when necessary): No one missed her. No one was looking for her. And even if they were, the Chinese firewalls were a bitch, so she’d given up trying to access her email after the fifth failed attempt.
She was on her own.
“Wǒ bú huì shuō zhōngwén.” Jilly looked at the woman earnestly, trying to convey through her wide, wide eyes and white skin exactly how much she didn’t speak Chinese. “Zhèlĭ yǒu rén hùi shuō Yīngyǔ ma? Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?” Did anyone in the store speak English? Did she speak English?
“Your accent is terrible,” the woman said. “Seriously, did you learn how to speak Mandarin out of a phrasebook?”
“Rosetta Stone,” Jilly beamed. “But since you speak English, it looks like I didn’t need it!”
Turned out the woman was from Seattle, had arrived to visit her aunt and uncle in Shanghai a week before the Miracle happened and hadn’t been able to leave. Jilly walked out of the pawn shop minus an emerald cocktail ring but with more money than she’d had in weeks.
When travel out of China opened for the first time since the Miracle, Jilly was first in line at the airport. “Look,” she said to the ticket agent. “You don’t understand. I need to be on that plane.”
“You don’t have enough money,” the agent said. Her name tag read Susanne. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”
Jilly almost screamed, almost leaped across the counter to rip out her throat. Instead she smiled sweetly. “Oh, please. Susanne. I know that’s not true. I know if I had a few small children hanging on to my legs, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation; you’d have tickets in our hands as soon as I asked. Or if I were pregnant. Or if I were a child. Or if I were old. But I’m none of those things. I’m young, I’m stranded in China, and I will not hesitate to cause a scene if I have to. So let’s make this simple. You give me a ticket, and I’ll fly thousands of miles away, and I’ll never bother you again.” She laid a pair of earrings on top of the pile of bills. “Do we have a deal?”
Sapphires. She’d bought them for herself with her signing bonus from PhiCorp. Susanne looked uncertain, and Jilly looked her in the eye and smiled wider. “I think you miscounted the money, didn’t you, Susanne.”
Susanne didn’t answer, but the money was gone from the counter, and soon a ticket was in Jilly’s hand. “Enjoy your flight, Miss Meredith.”
“That’s Kitzinger,” she said. “Jilly Kitzinger.”