Alex opted for the upper deck. He figured the sea breeze would do him some good and he wanted to take in the sights of Kowloon and Lantau; he had never been to Hong Kong and, in spite of himself, he found a growing excitement in his stomach at the prospect of partaking in a stalwart tourist tradition – The Star Ferry.
Sylvester had calculated Alex’ flight risk as minimal and opted for the lower deck. When their paths forked at the point of boarding, Sylvester sensed Alex’ pulse racing as the option of escape entered his mind, and so gently lifted the grey cotton flank of his blazer, exposing his pistol. It gleamed in the Hong Kong haze. Sylvester motioned for him to continue, walking two steps behind him over his right shoulder.
The boat was annexed onto the pier with a thick wooden board, with chunky rungs protruding to help passengers find their footing in wet weather. As the waves gently rocked the boat the board bobbed haphazardly from side to side, and when Alex stepped on it his legs felt like jelly; did he get seasick? When was the last time he’d been on a boat? That school trip when he was fourteen? Would he throw up over the side? His panic was interrupted as a large wave caused the board to rise underfoot and he almost lost his footing, his torso toppling backwards and arms flailing –
A firm hand caught his shoulder and pushed him upright. He stepped onto the boat and grasped the chain-link railing, flakes of green copper paint splintering into his palm, and turned to thank the owner of the hand. A stern Chinese man in a cream uniform looked at him and raised his eyebrows in the direction of the stairs to the upper deck. Alex smiled and stuttered a thank you before making his way up the wooden staircase.
The upper deck was less grand than he had hoped. Thin wooden benches lined the centre of the vessel and there were some plastic seats fixed onto a metal frame at the rear of the deck. These were already occupied by two conductors – or ship mates – who were wearing the same cream uniform as the attendant that helped Alex on board. They were smoking cigarettes and engrossed in deep conversation. Alex crossed over to the bench in front of the two men and took a seat on the outside so that he could absorb the view. When he sat down he spotted a wooden safety rail affixed to the bench in front with a brass hinge, similar to that you’d find when boarding a rollercoaster. He briefly wondered how fast this boat could manage – surely this was an unnecessary precaution – however still folded the bar across his lap. Just in case.