Being Inspired, maybe - 105
A picture paints ... well, as many words as you like. For instance:
And, then, the words:
And, then, the words:
Nancy also had a ticket, but had complicated her situation with Corrigan, so it would be interesting to see if she could extricate herself without looking like she was going to follow me to the ferry terminal.
But it was not a deal breaker if she couldn't get away.
As I came out the front entrance, a short way down the road was a flurry of flashing lights and a bevy of policemen, and in amongst them was the man without glasses, gesturing and protesting his innocents. One of the two Chinese that had been in the lobby watching him was there, on the side, observing.
Good. Keith the man without glasses or the Chinese would be following me. That didn't rule out someone else I hadn't seen, so I still needed to be careful.
At least I hadn't tried to conceal where I was going, letting the concierge know, and telling him that if anyone was looking for me that's where I'd be for the next few hours.
I figure he had to be the first person anyone would go to, after the front desk whom I'd also told if they, whoever they were, wanted me.
The taxi driver drove past the group and I could see the man without glasses was fighting a losing battle. The only good thing about it, he was providing a very noticeable distraction for me.
When I arrived at the terminal it was pandemonium.
Organized perhaps but barely. Buses were arriving every few minutes dropping off another 50 or so tourists, adding to the throng of about a thousand all either lining up or waiting on groups for the guide to tell them w there to go.
The disembarkation area was about a mile long with terminal buildings for what must be quite a few boats going out that night.
I went into the first building I could see and found an office and with the few Chinese words I had, I found myself directed to another office further along.
There my ticket was taken, a stub ripped off by what seemed to be a harassed officer, then pointed to the door which exited onto the wharf. I was told the picture of the boat was the one I was looking for.
It was behind the office, so I went up the gangway and onto the boat.
For a cruise vessel, it was if anything over the top. Marble staircase, marble floors, and the decor of a palace rather than a cruise vessel.
I went up the staircase to the middle level, just reaching the floor as a crowd of tourists streamed up behind me, some almost running. Perhaps there were vantage points on each of the decks that I didn't know about, but it seemed they considered the top deck the place to be for best views and those all-important photographs.
I joined the throng, it was hard not to be caught up in the surging mass, to the rear of the ship and a small section of open space, where the throng was reduced to squeezing through a narrow doorway and I found myself being jostled briefly until I reached the railing.
Still, the crowds came, and I realized this was the main way to get to the upper deck. I was surprised the ferry didn't have a staff member in place to make the process more orderly.
15 minutes later the vessel cast off, everyone had found somewhere to stand or sit, and the flow of people going up had been reduced to a trickle more coming back down than going up.
I took a quick look myself, and the top deck was filled to capacity with every vantage point taken.
Downstairs again, I crossed the deck to the VIP room and showed the crew member my ticket, after which she opened the door and ushered me in.
A lot fewer people in there, perhaps due to the price of gaining entrance. I ordered a drink then found a seat next to the window.
By this time, we were underway, moving out into the middle of the river, heading towards the Bund. I could see the buildings on the nearest riverbank lit up, colorful enough to keep those around me and doubtless everywhere else on the boat taking endless photographs.
They didn't notice, and I had almost not, the arrival of the same two policemen that had been at the hotel watching the man now without his glasses. I did a quick scan of the room, trying not to look like I was doing a quick scan of the room, and couldn't see him.
Nor had I seen him earlier before and during boarding. That didn't mean he wasn't on board somewhere.
The two policemen seemed satisfied he was not in the room and went back out again. They had not given me a second look, or perhaps they were that good. It didn't matter, they were gone.
When I sat down, there was another short rotund Chinese man sitting in the seat beside me. I had no idea if this was the man I was sent to meet, or he just sneaked in while everyone's attention was elsewhere.
I wasn't going to ask.
He didn't speak. He simply sat there, not looking sideways but just straight ahead at the buildings on the Bund, all lit in what seemed to be a continuous line of lights.
And then, all of a sudden, the building lights went out, much to the dismay of all on board, and those in the room who'd been crowding all the available window space.
Then the lights in the room went out, and for a few seconds, there was confusion. A minute in darkness, at the most, and the lights went back on, and the man was gone.
I'd neither seen or heard him leave. But I did feel a slight bump and out of curiosity, I checked my jacket pocket.
Something small. Most likely a USB memory stick. The files I'd been sent to pick up.
Now, all I had to do was get off the boat, back to the hotel, act normal for the next two days, and then go home, acting as if nothing had happened.
Of course, if this wasn't China, that might happen. But it was, and when I looked over at the door leading back to the exit, I saw the two policemen I'd seen earlier in the hotel escorting what looked to be the man who'd just been briefly sitting next to me out of the room.
That couldn't be a coincidence, could it?
© Charles Heath 2020