-- Chapter 4 --
It was still fully dark in the room when the alarm began to bleat at 4AM. With the familiarity of routine, Kristy got out of bed on the opposite side from the alarm, then trudged round the bed to turn it off before heading into the bathroom without giving herself time to stop moving. 4AM in Guangzhou meant 1PM in San Francisco, and she had to be on the phone with Bryn at 2PM.
Forty-five minutes later found her in front of her laptop, a steaming pot of room service coffee at her elbow to help her face the day. The laptop had become her lifeline during her stay in China. Alone in a sea of 1.3 billion people, email, Skype and Facebook provided the only connections to all that was familiar at home and work.
She glanced briefly through the work email that had accumulated while she was asleep, then snuck a glance at Facebook. The site had become a peculiar form of torture to as her trip had dragged on. At first she had posted frequently: places she had visited, pictures, new foods tried. This, however, seemed to give others the idea that she was on an extended vacation, or at least fully enwrapped up in some experience beyond their ken. Now she simply pored over everything posted by her friends. She hoped, if she had sat down to consider in all frankness her goal in this, to see some evidence that she was missed, that an empty slot remained which only her presence could fill in others lives. What she found instead was that others’ lives continued just as before, but without her. It was like the sort of dream in which one finds oneself dead and watches with increasing anxiety as everyone in one’s life moves on curiously unmoved by one’s absence.
It was, thus, with near delight that she saw an update from Katie: “Got hate mail from the city. Sister forgot to put the trash bill on auto-pay before she left. PANIC!!!” At least in some prosaic fashion she was missed. She left a comment reminding Katie that she’d put her name on the checking account, and reassuring her that nothing dire would happen until the bill was more than 45 days late.
Then she pulled up Skype and called Bryn at work.
Bryn’s rounded features and close-cropped blonde hair appeared on the laptop screen. “Rise and shine, campers! How’s the far east this morning?”
The ritual greeting was starting to grate, in the way that anything heard repeatedly at five in the morning would, but it was at least familiar and spoken in unaccented American English. “Doing alright. What’s yesterday’s news?”
“Those cases finally came in with the first production run samples for the line. I guess the Trade Winds people were telling the truth the last time they told you they’d shipped.”
Kristy felt significant relief. The always-promised, always-delayed sample first production run had been one of the prime things keeping her in China past her initial planned length of stay. “So, that’s good, right? I really will be coming home on Saturday?”
Bryn shook her head fractionally. “Nope. Started a total shitstorm. You should be glad you were on the other side of the Pacific.”
“Yep. The three o’clock call is going to be a fun one. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but we’re going to have to go all the way down their throats: make them take you to each factory and find out why they’re not producing product that looks like the prototypes. Some of these aren’t even close. I had Travel go ahead and cancel your flights. And they’re having your visa extended through the end of the year.”
“End of the year? Bryn, I’ve got a condo and bills and— I was supposed to be here five days and it’s already been almost three weeks.”
“Keep your pants on. You’re not staying through the end of the year. This just saves time and money on extensions. China hands six-month visas out like candy, so why make paperwork? Two to three weeks and you should have this all squared away and be sipping gin and tonics in business class on the way back.”
The three o’clock was, as Bryn had predicted, of some moment. The Courier line had been planned to include six initial designs, each of these available in several different leathers and also a “cruelty free” material. The manufacture was being sourced and coordinated by a Chinese company, Trade Winds, and the initial prototypes had been everything that one could wish.
As initially envisioned, Kristy’s visit was to have included meetings with the Trade Winds executives, a tour of one of the factories, inspection of the initial production run of product, and then handshakes and paper-signing. With the product of this initial short run, Aspire Brands sales force would have proceeded to win the hearts and minds of buyers for department and specialty stores everywhere, making them eager to participate in the triumphant return of the Courier brand — resplendent in memory even if recently sold at bankruptcy auction by the holding company which had bought but failed to turn around the struggling company.
This had constituted the vision. As with so many apparitions, this vision was suffering difficulties in realization, the first production run significant among these. Trade Winds had been curiously reluctant to show the products to Kristy upon her arrival, taking her to dinners and tours aplenty, but providing no actual wares for her inspection. Then it had been announced that the products had been aired directly to Aspire Brands. And now, as Bryn had revealed, in the latest episode of this melodrama, it proved that Trade Winds had exercised an unbecoming degree of creative license in the products they had sent: Nine designs had been sent rather than six, and yet some of the original six were not even among this superfluity. Moreover, on the four designs that corresponded, to varying degrees, to their legitimate forbears, the materials and designs were subtly (or even distinctly) different than in the prototypes, invariably in ways far more beneficial to Trade Winds’ costs than to the potential acclaim of the brand.
“It is at times like these,” Alexia intoned, for the benefit of all those on conference call, “that we are allowed to prove our enduring passion for the Brand.”
It was with feelings of endurance, but little passion, that Kristy, once it was after business hours in California, went down to confront the hotel’s breakfast buffet and mediate upon her fate.
8 hours ago