Being Inspired, maybe - 95

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

And, then, the words:

If I needed proof that I was under constant surveillance, it presented itself in the lobby of the hotel I was staying in.

The man who continually seemed to lose his glasses, the one I'd noticed on the plane and then after passing through customs and immigration, was sitting in a corner, reading a newspaper.

There had been a change of clothes, and more greying hair and the addition of a mustache, but it was the same man.  He definitely needed more sophisticated lessons in changing his appearance.

My guess is the Chinese, if they were observing us, would equally have little trouble in recognizing him, as much as they would of doing so in the first place

But it was a plus in a sense, it meant whoever it was interested in us, it wasn't the Chinese.  On the other hand, we were going to have to find out who it was who was interested in us.

I'd come down to the lobby early to check if there were any red flags and found one.  That had diverted my attention momentarily away from checking for any other threats.

Nancy had followed me down, having secured a room on the floor above me, making it look as though we were not together, as such, giving me an extra pair of eyes.  And, it was Nancy who picked the other two, Chinese nationals, given away by the suits they were wearing.

And the dark glasses.  I mean, seriously?  They needed lessons in how to go incognito.

It was, to a certain extent, unnecessary, but all the same, they looked the part, all serious and rigid in their rolls.  No doubt they were trying to look invisible, and, instead, stood out.

I went over to the front desk and was immediately recognized by the same person who'd checked me in, making me wonder if I had one of those faces. 

"Is there a message for me?"

The girl smiled, and said, "What can I do for you, Mr. James?  She had a problem with some of the English words but this time I could follow what she was saying.

"Do you have a newspaper?"

"English, I presume?"

I guess arriving from England on a British passport which I had to leave with the desk clerk was a dead giveaway.

"Yes, if possible, but I can speak a smattering of Chinese."

She disappeared through a door at the back, leading to offices, and several other rooms.  She came back out a minute later with a South China Post English edition.

When I left the desk, I noticed Nancy had moved to a lounge chair not ten feet from the two-man Chinese surveillance team and gave them one of her smiles, which was completely ignored.

The man who now wasn't wearing glasses glanced in her direction, then over towards me, before going back to his paper.

It was, in a way, slightly comical.

Earlier I had a walkthrough of the lobby, apparently checking out the hotel facilities, and to make it look real, made a reservation for two for a late dinner, and had a cold beer at the bar.

The bartender was not the chatty type, but he was excellent at polishing glasses.  I had noticed the bar was better attended now.  I picked a seat at the bar which gave me a view of the lobby where Nancy and the surveillance were sitting, ordered a long glass of beer and settled in.

As a contingency plan, Nancy had struck up a conversation with a young but eager man being transferred by this company as a junior executive, in their Shanghai branch.  He seemed reluctant to accept the position, despite the advantages it would be later on, so she spent an hour or so convincing him he'd made the right decision.

He was, of course, the lonely sort of person, and in a new and very large city in s foreign country, he was worried about making friends.  It was an interesting pitch, but Nancy was wise enough not to fall for his tricks.  But it would be useful to use him if the situation demanded it.

And now this seemed to be such an occasion.

She had seen him wander into the foyer looking like a lost sheep.  He was scanning everyone on the floor and stopped when he saw her over by the Chinese.  An interesting expression of his face.

I could see he was of two minds about going over to her, and instead of deciding, he stood on the edge between the front desk and the foyer area as if he was waiting for someone or something.

She looked up at precisely the same time he was looking in her direction, and waved, slowly getting out of her seat.  The man without glasses had finally realized where I had gone and was keeping an eye on me.  The Chinese suits had split their attention between the newcomer and Nancy, but, were not interested in me, and they had plenty of opportunities to keep me under surveillance.

It seemed to me they were more interested in the man without glasses.

She crossed the floor and joined him.  There was a brief conversation then they came towards the bar.  I was not sure what she was intending to do, but I suspect I would be involved at some point.

Or now.

"Richard Corrigan, fellow passenger, and, at the moment, the only person I know in Shanghai.  This is Will Grandhill.  We met on the plane."

It was a shake hands moment, not that I got off the stool.

He gave me one of those steely-eyed looks, and I knew there was more to this man than met the eye.

"Any particular reason you're here, or just being a tourist?"

A casual question laced with some may possibilities.

"I have to catch up with some freelance journalists for my newspaper, but I intend to go sightseeing this time around.  You know the old saying, all work, and no play makes Richard a dull man.  Trying not to be dull.  Sit, what will you have?"

It would be niggardly to turn them away, but it was also a risk that we might suddenly appear on the Chinese radar.

Beer and wine.  I had picked him as a gin drinker,

While they continued their conversation, I kept an eye on the man without glasses.  The Chinese hadn't moved, but one was keeping an eye on the new arrival, and the other on the man without glasses.

After a few minutes man without glasses folded his paper in such a deliberate manner I thought it was signal to another person in the foyer.

I cast my eyes around the room, or as much of it I could see, and nearly missed the person he was signaling, a woman, Chinese, who did the same with her magazine before standing and smoothing the wrinkles out of her skirt.

She looked like a businesswoman and would not be out of place in a hotel lobby used by Western businesspeople.

My eyes went back to man without glasses who was on the move.  The Chinese men scrambled.  Lack of training and fitness, there was no doubt who they were interested in.  One went after man without glasses. The other after the woman.

OK, I had to revise my assessment of those two.  I doubt anyone without specialist training wouldn't have realized those two were together.

I looked at my watch.  It was time to get a taxi to the ferry terminal and find the boat I'd been told to catch.  The date and time was a crude floor plan of the three-deck vessel which would be loaded with foreign holidaymakers on a night cruise, showing the camera black spots.

Security can be good, but nearly always there were gaps.  How my contact knew about them was anyone's guess.  Maybe he had someone on the boat that could temporarily disable the cameras, but it was going to be a question if or when I met him for the first and last time.

He knew my name, I didn't know him, but he knew me by sight.  I had no idea who he was, just a tag line with a reply.  A USB would change hands and that was it.  My boss said it would be simple, but in reality, it wasn't.  It needed the planets to line up, and that didn't happen very often, if at all.

"Well folks," I said after finishing my drink, "it's time to go.  Got a ticket to see the bright lights of the Bund."

I slid off my seat.

"Maybe we'll run into each other at breakfast.  So, until then."

I shook hands with Corrigan and nodded to Nancy and then made my way to the concierge to get a taxi.  I had an appointment to keep, even though I had no idea who it would be with.

© Charles Heath 2020


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