Being inspired, maybe – 74


A picture paints ... well, as many words as you like.  For instance:


And, then, the words:


I didn't like the people on this tour group, but you don't get to pick and choose who your travelling companions when choosing to take a bus tour.

That dislike started from the moment we arrived at the airport, where the prospective tour participants gathered under the tour company banner outside the arrivals gate.

It hadn't helped when I discovered my travelling companion had booked the tour without telling me.  It was meant to be a surprise to celebrate our one-year anniversary, and it turned out to be a shock instead.

It was meant to bring us closer together after it seemed we were drifting apart.  I think that was because we were still discovering those small differences that eventually lead to breakups.

We'd barely spoken on the plane, and 11 hours in the air, not speaking, or in short stilted moments was hardly a good omen for the next ten days.

Being on the plane was also an eye-opener, which put the spotlight on a number of our fellow passengers whose behaviour was hardly exemplary and at times downright embarrassing.

And after we landed my worst fears came alarmingly true, they were on our tour.

Three days it had taken to wear me down.

Now, on a boat, doing a canal cruise, and having to listen to the cries of dismay that the boat had no beer was almost too much.  Couldn't they wait about 45 minutes until lunchtime?

I deliberately sat down the back with the tour guide who, as I had, begun to show dismay at the group he had drawn, and at odds with trying to keep them in line, be more respectful of local customs, and contain their endless thirst, was also at the end of his tether.

Margaret, my travelling companion, had been snafued by the main group and found herself trapped at the front of the boat.  One of the two younger women on the tour, it was not hard to see their motivation. 

The other Suzanne had got to the stage of pretending she had a headache and stayed at the hotel.  I'd seriously considered doing the same.

A quick look out the rear, I noticed we had just floated under a bridge, and looking in the opposite direction realised there was nothing but water in front of us.  And several islands in the distance, perhaps a halfway stop for refreshments.

I turned my attention back to the tour guide.  "Any chance you could get the driver to pull out the bungs?"

Our tour guide was foreign to most English idioms and often at a loss in understanding some descriptive words, and my rendition of his language was at a schoolboy level or worse.  It was the main reason why he looked at me uncomprehendingly.

"It's what keeps some boats afloat, and when they get back on dry land allows you to drain any water in the bilge, or the bottom of the boat."

It still didn't register, so I gave up.  It didn't look like we were going to get back to land anytime soon or go down like the Titanic and spark an international rescue, i.e., more likely, an international incident.  A bit optimistic on the lake not far from the canals where it wouldn't take much to get to dry land even if you couldn't swim.

I stood and headed towards the rear doorway when beyond was a small deck and a deckhand was smoking a cigarette.  Smoking was banned in the cabin, but there were no smokers in our group.
Loud guffaws of laughter came from the front, where Bailey, the resident comedian was standing centre stage relating yet another of his more tissue stories, and it was clear now, Margaret was tired of her new companions, and was giving me a rather forlorn look.

Time to mount a rescue of a different sort.

Except, I felt a shiver down my spine, and stopped short of the rear doorway.

A look out the side window showed we were about the head around an island which I thought had been further away when we set out.  In fact, a quick look out the other side showed we were almost the only boat on the water on this part of the lake.  Odd.  When we'd left the dock there had been half a dozen boats, all striking out in a different direction, and at least one following us.

The boat slowed.  I saw the guide get up and look out the window, and then head straight for the front where the driver sat.  His urgency only intensified the bad feeling I had.

I remained tucked inside the rear doorway so that for the moment, I would be invisible to anyone coming towards us, fortuitous as I could just hear the loud sound of a high powered outboard motor.

A glimpse out the window showed it to be a rubber dinghy with four men on board, and the boat coming towards us from behind the island.

Four men who didn't look very friendly.

Surely, they were out on their own tour or were waterways staff on a routine check, but another glance showed we were heading towards them after a very subtle change of course and would soon be hidden from view of the shoreline we just came from.

The tour guide was now shouting in his language at the driver who was shouting back, but not attempting to change the course of the boat to the direction the tour guide was pointing which was the way we had just come

Who were the men on the boat?  The deckhand had tossed the butt of his cigarette in the water and was now watching the rubber dinghy approach.  Was he working with them, because it was clear to me, and the guide, we were about to be joined by the men in the rubber dinghy?

As our boat started to slow, it caught the attention of the rest of the tour group, who had just realised something was happening, and most likely thinking it might not have anything to do with the cruise.  It was at least an end to the crude jokes.

The boat driver had almost stopped our craft as the dinghy came alongside, allowing two of the four men to board our boat via the prow, and fill the doorway.

The dinghy then slid down the side of our boat to the rear and another of the men jumped on deck.  The deckhand did nothing to stop him, nor did he challenge the boarding.  He just stepped out of the way.  It was hard not to imagine both driver and deckhand were not in on it.

I waited, then as the man at the rear stepped into the doorway, I notice he had a handgun, the sort that could shoot quite a few bullets.  I only knew this from using a similar-looking weapon at a local gun club where I had been learning to shoot for a competition.  Something else I noticed; his finger was not on the trigger but around the outer cover. 

It meant these men preferred to be threatening rather than deadly, and perhaps that had something to do with local laws.  In this case, at the very least, no mistakes were going to be made, none that would cause the authorities to take a harsh line with what I figured was about to be a quick robbery, followed by a high-speed cut and run. 

It had all the hallmarks of being pre-planned, so we could expect no help from the boat crew.

Seeing his confederate filling the rear door, the man up the front said, in heavily accented English, "Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid there is a slight change of plans.  Everyone will drop their cash and valuables into the bag coming up the aisle."

The second man came into the cabin with a sports bag and proffered at the first of the passengers.  Then the leader looked up, towards the end of the boat and saw me.  At the same time, Bailey decided to stand and voice his objections, or maybe he was going to try his jokes on a different audience.

"I say, old chap, but this is highly irregular. We were told this is a safe country to visit. So I can assure you..."

The man at the front turned his attention to Bailey.  "I don't care what you think.  Sit down and shut up."

My thoughts exactly, and for a brief second, I was hoping he might shoot Bailey and give us all some peace and quiet.

Instead, it gave me a fraction of a second to make a very foolhardy decision which could only end badly.  I shrugged, counted to three, then reached out for the gun not five feet away.

The man holding it was taken by surprise, and as I'd hoped, released his grip on the gun, making it easier for me to wrench it out of his hand, then use the momentous as he jerked towards me to slam the butt of the gun over his head as hard as I could.

Bailey was still standing, blocking both the collector and the man at the front.  As the rear guard collapsed the deck I saw the collector reach into the bag, no doubt reaching for a weapon.

Getting the gun in my hand, just as the man at the front was raiding his weapon to use, I screamed out "Get down," which had the desired effect, though I suspect Bailey just began to realise what was about to happen with guns being raised in both directions.

It gave me the precious milliseconds to aim and shoot, what I told myself in my mind, two clay pigeons in quick succession.  Both men went down and stayed there.

The man in the boat heard rather than saw what was happening and left, not wanting to stick around and face the consequences of his friends’ actions.

The tour guide grabbed the loose gun their leader had dropped on the floor, clearly without a clue how to use it, and pointed it at the men on the deck.  He said something in his native tongue to the collector, and I heard the clatter of the gun he had been tossed aside.  One of the passengers grabbed it, and also pointed it at the two men on the deck.

I yelled out to the tour guide, "tell the deckhand to tie them up."

He did. The man sullenly did as he was told with two of the ropes that had previously tied the boat to the dock.

Once the men had been rendered safe, Bailey decided it was safe to stand up again, and turned to see who had the temerity to yell at him.

He was going to say something, but I cut in, "save it for the police when we get back.  Anyone able to drive a boat?"


© Charles Heath 2019

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