Chapter 46

One look at Dead Man’s Pass, and Danny understood why Daisy didn’t want to take this route.

The gorge was one of the deepest canyons in the world. Between sheer rocky cliffs, the two sides were connected by a narrow bridge made of rough wooden planks intertwined with ropes. It was no more than twenty yards, but it wasn’t for anyone with a faint heart. One missed step would send one down the deep gulch.

The bridge was too narrow for two men to walk side by side, and it was not possible for one to hop from one plank to another. Wasting no time, Birch bent down in front of Danny, and before the American could argue, Birch picked him up on his back. The two hundred-pound weight made him stumble. Sucking in a breath, he stabilized himself. With both his hands he readjusted and secured the man’s position on his back. Without turning, he shouted to Daisy, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

At five feet ten, Birch was tall for a Chinese. He’d grown up tall and strong, just like his parents wished for him when they named him after the white-barked birch tree. Danny was six feet three, a heavy load. The primitive bridge was challenging for anyone to cross, but it seemed like an insurmountable task to carry another person on one’s back.

Birch bent forward, adrenaline coursing through him as he trudged one step at a time. His heart hammered wildly, and his pulse quickened. The decayed boards and rotten ropes threatened to break at any moment. No matter how brave he was, he couldn’t help but wonder if the old bridge could hold their combined weight.

“Grab the rope,” yelled Birch. Two lines at waist level flanked the bridge. The one on the left side was limp, almost useless. Danny clutched the rope on the right.

The planks creaked and the bridge swayed under their weight. The springy movement brought a ripple of goose bumps onto Birch’s skin. Cold mountain updrafts sent chills up his spine. Below he spotted a hawk. With several deliberate beats of its powerful wings, the bird drifted, swooped, and dove suddenly when its prey came into view. With a shrill cry, it disappeared into the fog above the river at the bottom of the gorge.

The endless abyss took Birch’s breath away. But he remained focused and proceeded slowly. At one point, a piece of plank broke. He didn’t see it happen, but he heard it—the snapping sound and then Danny’s gasp. His heart sank. How big is the gap? Will it be trouble when I come back for Daisy?

Sweat poured into his eyes, but he didn’t have the time or a free hand to wipe them clean. Sheer determination propelled him forward.

Halfway across, they heard yelling from a short distance away. It was in Japanese, “Yamero! Stop!”

Birch picked up the pace.

Daisy had watched nervously as Birch navigated the bridge. To prevent herself from crying out loud, she bit her knuckles.

So focused was she on her loved ones that she didn’t hear the Japanese closing in from behind. They laughed and shouted at her, signaling her not to move. But Daisy broke into a frantic run and sprang onto the bridge.

It was too late. A couple of steps later, with a loud blast and her scream, the old bridge broke in the middle. The soldiers probably meant to frighten her, to slow her down, but the hand grenade had damaged the already-rotten structure, and it snapped, cutting off the only escape route she had. Now she was separated from the two men she loved.