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A Phone Call to China (Caitlin’s Journal, 16)

CD Knowles 4 weeks ago

A Phone Call to China — “I was hoping she [Fenfang] could tell me what happened to her mother [Li’s sister], Mei.”

Editor’s note: This is a developing story. Below you’ll find the sixteenth journal entry that Caitlin Wang, our advice columnist who went missing in mid-February, wrote after she and her husband, Dr. Li Wang (from UT’s virology lab), fled Austin. Caitlin asked us to publish her journal in the hopes it will help her efforts to find her missing husband who disappeared in the Hill Country in May. A lot has happened in the interim, but we’ve made the editorial decision to finish publishing the journal before we catch you up on the horrific events that came soon after Caitlin asked for our help. We highly recommend starting at the beginning of this story with our series of videos, when we first announced that Caitlin was missing til when we finally found her and met in person for the first time. If you’d like to start with her journal entries, click here. We’ve included a summary at the bottom of this post of the parts of her journal we’ve made public so far. 

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May 23, 2020

First, the house Randi took me to is fabulous. Although I’m in the middle of the worst crisis of my life, I can’t stop enjoying its comforts. The place is huge and sprawling: professional kitchen, basement wine cellar, living room the size of a hotel lobby, various dens filled with books and sculpture, and I don’t know how many bedrooms upstairs. No reason I shouldn’t pamper myself a little, I thought, and so I threw my filthy clothes in the laundry and sampled some of the designer dresses and gowns in the lady of the house’s vast closet. In the end I settled for a pair of lightweight pants, the sort you might wear on a hike with lots of pockets for keys, credit cards, phone, etc — exactly what I would need if I had to go on the run again.

I also sampled the lady’s face creams, lipsticks and perfumes, and spent the entire first morning in her jacuzzi tub, enjoying the myriad of delicious oils and exotic plants that made me feel as if I was in a tropical paradise. Later, I flopped down on a soft leather couch in the living room and turned on the plasma TV to watch the news. It’s Memorial Day weekend (I’d lost track of time and forgotten that). Among the headlines this morning, a piece about Trump pushing Hydroxychloroquine as a cure for Covid. What an ass. Every doctor in the world knows the drug has serious risks and side effects. It’s a drug I depend as a lupus patient to combat swollen joints, flares and rashes, but because of the president, who never researches a thing that comes out of his lying mouth, supplies of Hydroxy are beginning to run short and that could become a serious problem for me since I only have about a three week supply left. But I won’t dwell on that now. I want to enjoy my time in this house.

Randi has said I can be here till September. She taught me how to use the extremely complicated TV, assigned me a temporary burglar alarm code in case I want to go out, showed me which bedroom to use, told me what I could help myself to from the pantry and freezer (she’ll bring milk and fresh produce next time she comes to check the mail), and advised me, much to my chagrin, that the only computer in the house is in a locked office. So much for the serious stint of research I was planning.

One of the first things I did when I arrived at the house last night was find hiding places for both my journal and the key fob. I also set up Lola’s big brass cage. She’s indicated that she likes to be outdoors and so I took her to the pool with me late this afternoon when I went for a swim. If I weren’t in such a terrible predicament this would be heaven.

At seven this evening, I decided to place a call to Li’s niece, Fengang, in China. She lives in Wuhan, thirteen hours ahead of Austin time. I was hoping she could tell me what happened to her mother, Mei. Since I was using a landline, I figured no one could trace the call to me. “Ni hao,” she said, picking up the phone. Her voice was hoarse. I’ve never actually spoken to her before and wasn’t even sure she could speak English.

“Ni hao,” I said back. “This is Li’s wife, Caitlin, calling from Texas. I’m wondering how your mother is.”

At the other end, a sharp intake of breath. And then: “She has gone away for awhile. We have not heard from her. How is the weather in Texas?”

“A little too hot,” I said. “Li has gone, too.”

“Maybe he will come back soon. I have to go now. The weather here is getting warm. I wish you a good day.” And with that she hung up.

I spent the rest of the evening wondering about the call. Maybe he will come back soon. What did she mean by that? Do I dare get my hopes up? Is Li still in the US? Questions I can’t answer, so I had a glass of wine filched from a bottle in the fancy wine cellar, took an Ambien I found in a medicine cabinet and came to bed, curling up on satin sheets and praying I’ll dream of Li wherever he is.

***

Summary of What We’ve Made Public So Far

Dr. Li Wang’s sister Mei was researching corona viruses at the Wuhan lab in China, but she disappeared under suspicious circumstances after having mailed highly classified material regarding her research to Dr. Wang here in Austin. (It was sent on an external hard drive hidden inside a key fob.) When he received news of Mei’s disappearance from his niece (who lives in China) in February, Dr. Wang packed up his lab and some supplies, and he and Caitlin set out to live off the grid in a cottage outside of Doss, TX. While there, Dr. Wang had been working in full Hazmat gear on various vials he stored in the small lab fridge. He told Caitlin that if anything should happen to him, she must not, under any circumstances, go to the authorities, and that she was to take the key fob to a researcher in Galveston named Otto Ling.

One morning a few months after arriving at the cottage, Dr. Wang went to the grocery store but never returned. The next afternoon, two law enforcement officers showed up at the cottage with the keys to Li’s truck which had been abandoned, keys still in the ignition, on the side of the road. Caitlin left with the cops to get the truck and returned to a ransacked cottage – Dr. Wang’s computer and all his scientific research had been stolen. She decided to search for him, first in the small town of Doss, and then back in Austin at their house, which had also been burglarized. At that point she had no choice but to drive to Galveston to deliver the key fob to Otto Ling.

Arriving at Ling’s house in the middle of the night, Caitlin slept in her truck, and when no one came to the front door the next morning, she jimmied open a window and let herself in, where she found a chatty African Grey parrot and came face to face with Ling’s angry neighbor. A visit to Ling’s lab at UTMB was a dead end – he’s on sabbatical, no one knows where he is. The neighbor who was taking care of Ling’s parrot, Lola, was ill with what Caitlin suspects is Covid-19, so Caitlin packed the bird and her things into her husband’s truck and headed back to Austin to visit his lab at UT, something Dr. Wang had specifically warned her not to do. That’s where she ran into one of Li’s associates, Dr. Greta Shultz, who was neither kind nor helpful.

Caitlin stayed that night with her friend Henry Sullivan who graciously offered to look into Greta Shultz and to check Caitlin’s computer to see if it had been hacked. Henry is allergic to birds, so Caitlin couldn’t stay with him more than the one night. That’s when she found herself settling into the guest bedroom of her former personal shopper, V, who revealed her true (romantic) feelings for Caitlin over dinner and then, later, snuck into Caitlin’s bed in the middle of the night. Completely freaked out by V’s aggressive and angry behavior at Caitlin’s rejection, Caitlin quickly packed up the bird and her things and parked her truck in front of ArtProfiler editor Nicole’s house, where she slept for a couple hours before dawn. Later that afternoon she met with ArtProfiler’s directors, Nicole and Randi, neither of whom would allow Caitlin to stay at their homes due to Covid-19. Randi offered Caitlin her property management client’s home as a refuge, as that client will be out of town until September, so the house is empty.

***

We’ll post another journal entry on Wednesday. To start at the beginning of this story, when we first announced that our advice columnist, C.D. Knowles (now confirmed to be Caitlin Wang), had gone missing, please click here. This will be an ongoing publication as we continue to sift through her journal and post the entries that explain everything.

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