Being Inspired, maybe - 79

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

And, then, the words:

I was still feeling from the suddenness of one moment being in London and what felt like the next, in Shanghai.

The expression I heard once in an old Hollywood movie popped into my head as I stood and stretched after the plane had come to a stop at the gate, that I'd been shanghaied.

Quite literally, it was true.

Around me, the cabin looked like a bomb had gone off with all the accoutrements of business class travellers everywhere, and the passengers hastily trying to reassemble themselves and their belongings before the door was opened and they had to disembark.

My travelling companion smiled wanly as she stuffed her onboard bag haphazardly with belongings.  This was not a first for her, but it was short notice and she had been caught on the hop.

I was used to it.  Trouble-shooter, ready to drop everything at a moment's notice, to go anywhere anytime and do anything that was required by whatever means possible.

Of course, Nancy didn't know that part of the assignment, only that she had to do whatever I asked of her.  I don't think they had explained what 'anything' quite meant, but that would sort itself out.
Jeffries had said she was the best and brightest of the new recruits, and this was her first test in the field.

I smiled back, trying to look reassuring.  "Don't rush, it'll be a few minutes yet."

She took a deep breath and relaxed.

Our somewhat disjointed conversations on the plane were just that, disjointed.  There was no talking about work or the job, and I wasn't great on talking about myself, and mercifully, neither was she.  All I needed to know about her was on one sheet of paper, now ashes in my trash can back at the office.

The cabin crew started moving through the cabin, helping where necessary, clearing the way for the other 400 odd passengers at the rear of the plane.  Once the door opened and people started moving there was going to be a surge to get off the plane we'd been stuck on for quite a few hours.

There was a delay boarding, a delay taking off, a slowdown in the air due to weather conditions during the flight, and then when coming into land and over five hours later than it was due, everyone would have only one thing in mind, to get off as quickly as possible.

Dealing with immigration seemed easy by comparison.  If only they knew.

Nancy wiped the loose lock of hair out of her left eye and stood up.


I was sure there was more in that bag that she started with, or perhaps it had been better packed to begin with.  Or maybe she was taking the monogrammed blanket and a few other 'goodies' as mementos.

"Like I said, it’s not for the faint-hearted.  You shouldn’t have any problems with immigration, just do everything they ask.  Maybe we'll run into each other on the other side."

Which meant, having spent time on building an observable memory for each of the other passengers within our orbit, all they would remember was two disparate people meeting for the first time on the plane, playing it cool, and then maybe meeting up in Shanghai if the opportunity arose.. It covered all the bases.

Another wan smile, she lifted the cabin bag strap over her shoulder and joined her line of departing passengers.  My line was stuck behind an elderly gentleman who appeared to have lost his glasses.
I'd been watching him during the flight, and he was anything but the doddering fool he made himself out to be, and he'd been watching us carefully, but not that carefully that I didn't notice.

Perhaps he'd been trying to separate us.  If he was, it was not going to work to his advantage.
Glasses found, a backward glance in my direction where his bag was sitting on the seat, and he was off.  In a moment of pretending panic, I'd taken a good photo of him and sent it back to the office for identification.  I'd have an answer by the time I reached the baggage belt.

I followed three passengers behind him and kept that distance up the ramp, and into the terminal proper.  At the first seat, he stopped, put his bag down and started looking for something.
A turn of the head in the direction he thought I'd be, if he was checking where I was, was predictable.  I was right behind him, a slick makeover to get in front without him noticing.

"Looking for something," I asked quietly.

He jumped, caught both off guard and by surprise.

There was a moment's hesitation on his part, accompanied by a blank look.  Think of what to say, I suspect

"My glasses."

"The same ones you lost on the plane and the steward found and gave to you."  Then, just to add to the shock I added, " Have we met before?  It seems you were looking in my direction a few times during the flight."

He straightened and patted his coat pocket.  "Of course, how silly of me not to remember."

He picked up his bag and nodded, then joined the rest of the passengers heading towards immigration.

He didn't answer my question, so, to me, that was an answer.  A man to be very careful around.

Before moving on myself I sent Nancy a short text message that told her to meet me at the hotel, and to ignore me if she saw me again between now and then.  I also told her about the man, and to keep clear of him.

I saw him again several times, the first at the self-serve immigration points and then again in the line up to pass through the main immigration point, for all intents and purposes to maintain his cover.
There was no doubt in my mind that his target was me.

Through immigration I went to the baggage belt after, making sure I was behind him, putting him at a disadvantage because he had to look around to see where I was.  He tried once to disappear so that I would go past, but it failed, and when he was on the move again, I was still behind him.

His expression when he discovered me, was priceless.

The cat and mouse continued through baggage, when I decided to stand next to him, but not speak, and after my bag came off first, left him waiting for his.  Nancy, I noticed had already left, her bag one of the first few on the belt.

Through customs, I came out into the arrivals area, where there was a chauffeur waiting with a card with my name on it.  Nancy and I had separate cars booked just in case.

As we left the terminal building, I caught a glimpse of the man who'd been trying hard not to look like he was keeping an eye on me, as he came out of arrivals looking around.

Then we were gone.

Hopefully, it would be the last time I saw him.

© Charles Heath 2019


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