The phone did not ring, but he pulled it out anyways. Extracted from his left slacks pocket the battered black and gray thing beamed the time and date on its front mount LCD, but no calls missed, no voicemail waiting, that row of icons lay dark. His breath groaned up from his belly up to the chest in one of those self-destructive reflexes to stress that compel the body to rack against itself. Absentminded, he scooted a millimeter away from the passengers packed in on his left, as if to return the phone to its nest. Instead he jumped and whisked it back out, thumbing the LCD back on and checking the time once more: 4:17 pm. The passengers to his right cursed in their Shanghai way.

Then it vibrated in his hand. He hadn’t used a proper ring tone in six years. A little spike of adrenaline coursed through his limbs and he struggled to get the clamshell phone open and up to his head. The other passengers bitched and moaned with their bodies, writhing back against his jutting elbow. He gets a few looks from his older neighbors, shorter, more malnourished women at the tail-end of their middle years with burlap shopping bags slung and tight black afro curls on their heads. The younger people, suits and neon-hued student types, pretend not to see or stare thirty degrees away into the peeling bulkhead posters.

Four rings in, he got it to his ear. “This is Vasili.”

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