Yesterday by close of play, as I was trying to make sense of bits and pieces of information even at that time of day still being thrown at me in an MS Teams meeting with seven other participants, one of my smartphones signaled receipt of a text message in what looked like a group chat. “You guys wanna go for a boat ride ? Boards back of Hilton!” Although I had no idea whose group chat I had been included in, intentionally or by mistake, or which of the three or so Hilton hotels that I knew of was being referenced in the text, I immediately lost all interest in the MS Teams meeting and thumbed on the smartphone in question “Sure, what time?” No sooner had I pressed the send button, then another text came in, apparently having crossed mine in virtual space: “Hey guys, don’t you think it’d be nice to ask Ding to tag along?” Before anyone could respond “Not the tightwad with the screwed up face!!! [Three puke face emoticons]”, or something equally embarrassing, I texted: “Just got the invite. Happy to.” Departure was in less than an hour from that point in time. I broke off the Teams meeting saying one of the cats had spasms, then, reading the faces on the screen, that both cats had spasms, probably cat food poisoning, went to the bathroom to do up my hair and make the best of my damaged face, changed from blouse and pencil skirt, that I wore for no reason but to feel corporate even in virtual meetings, into a breezy yet body-con summer dress, asked in the chat for an address my satnav would be able to work with, and raced off to the venue.
The boat was a nicely refurbished diesel-fueled wide-beam barge, perfect for navigating the canals of a certain town in the country of my exile. My arrival completed a company of five men and a woman. Three of the men and the woman were partners of a small corporate litigation boutique. The two other men were bigshots at a corporate client of the boutique. One of them owned the boat and was at the helm. He also commanded the music system from his smartphone. I had meanwhile recollected that some three months ago I had offered legal expert services to the boutique in support of litigation they were in the process of preparing on behalf of the client. This had occasioned the invite. Due to a certain pandemic we had thus far never met in real life and I had all but forgotten about the services I had offered. Providing expert legal advice to law firms is the kind of work that I do as a sidekick to my work for the tech company whose board I’m in. It’s not allowed of course (even less so in this particular instance because the litigation is against a client of the company). But if I smell an opportunity to make some extra cash, you bet I’m on it. The terms of my engagement with the boutique, apart from containing a nicely staggered earn-out structure that I’m very proud to have devised and successfully negotiated, stipulate that my involvement will at all times be behind-the-scenes and strictly on a no-names basis. I consider that adequate protection. No one’s reading this blog anyway.
The boat ride was extremely enjoyable. The evening was warm. The atmosphere all around was calm, set, the music mellow. We had wine, which we drank from plastic cups. And although I don’t like wine, the idea of having it on a boat appealed to me and I downed four cups one shortly after the other. I was light-headed for a while but soon recuperated. Many other boats were out on the water. We moored at a restaurant on the waterfront, locally known as The Gilbert, where we were served preordered sushi on deck and were able to restock on wine. The helmsman then took us back in the direction of the Hilton, but, following general acclaim of his suggestion to the effect, we detoured to navigate the inner canals of the city. We commented on the houses and apartments we chugged by and which at least one of us knew the architect or the value or the owner of, or that its interior had been recently redone, or that it had seen a tragic death such as a suicide, that it would be on the market soon, etc. The day had darkened and unobtrusive lights mounted on the brick structures of the low bridges that we passed underneath had turned on. The skipper had notched up the music to an ambient techno beat and we started swaying slowly and soundlessly, like ghosts, in the vein of dancing. We moored at another Gilbert (debating in our woozy condition whether, if there were two Gilberts, there might not also be a George around the bend), where we took in our final two bottles of wine. The men had started talking about a thing they knew nothing about, as men are wont to. Although I knew everything about the particular issue, I declined to join the conversation because I wasn’t attracted to any of the men and the issue was extremely boring anyway. I sat down with the only other woman on board instead. She’s an acclaimed litigator and a professor at law. We talked about our lives and our children. In subdued voices we exchanged very personal information, but I made sure that I got the better part (lying discretionarily and without restraint about my own life). She told me she was divorced two years ago and that she had completely given up on her oldest son who, following the divorce, had dropped out of high school, did drugs, drank too much and, at the age of twenty, had been convicted of felonies in a court-of-law on several occasions already. She was quite short, her body was shapeless. She looked prematurely aged. I hadn’t noticed these things during the video call where we had discussed the case and my services.
Streets of London by Ralph McTell was playing on the music system as we approached the jetty where we had boarded. We alighted. We parted. The helmsman steered the barge back to open water in the direction of where I supposed it would be docked. The woman was still on it. She hadn’t told me she would be. It was completely dark now. There was no music. She sat erect and motionless.