The building was small and flat, like something used to sell cola and ice cream, but there was no cola or ice cream today, just a wind break. Here, they found a number of passengers huddled in groups like miniature football players, a gathering point. Looking for their logo, they found it, waving above a tiny group, which appeared to be the smallest among those waiting, its visual image as significant as the Panama hat that floated nearby. Again providence had taken a hand.
While the other groups stood around in different sized circles, most of theirs were sitting on the only available chairs that pressed against the building. Borders noticed that some were trying to start up friendships. Were these the same people who always had friends around them or did they bathe in solidarity at home and now was their only opportunity to bloom.
"We're from England," voiced one couple, the remark intended for the man standing adjacent, the man wearing the white hat.
"I'm from Canada," he volunteered.
Hill, standing close by, spoke up.
"Are you from Calgary?' he asked. "I saw your name on the net when I checked to see who was in the group."
"Yes," replied the man. "What about you?"
"Halifax," replied Borders.
The man nodded with his chin, and then turned away - the conversation obviously over. He didn't seem to be looking for friends, especially if they weren't from Calgary. Borders thought about Calgary, a city that seemed to be a hotbed for terrorists. Could this man be the leader of a sleeper cell?
Borders listened to the short discourse between Hill and Panama. He wasn't a big talker himself. In his line of work, it wouldn't pay. He looked around at the other members of their group, some standing, some sitting. It was a small group, much smaller than he expected, perhaps twelve. Certainly not the bus load he anticipated. He knew no one, except Hill, a thought he held for just a few seconds. Two women, standing together, looked familiar. It had been years since he last saw them – Lady Brenda and Jeopardy, agents for MI-6. Although they had aged, 'Haven't we all,' he was positive, it was them. He looked away so they wouldn't catch him staring, and wondered what they were doing on this ship. It was highly unlikely they were enjoying the cruise. Could it be they were on the same assignment as he - agencies didn't share information? It was best to ignore them for the time being.
Time passed as the wind jostled them and the number of tour groups waiting began to diminish, eventually leaving them as the only remaining group. The tour guide informed them they were waiting for six more guests, who had not yet appeared. Borders soon learned they were Chinese. Had his vacation taken another strange twist? Were they members of MSS, the Chinese arm responsible for espionage overseas? Were they also following Panama? The Chinese seemed to bother little with terrorists that worried foreign countries. After another half-hour and still no Chinese, their touring time being eaten up by setbacks, they finally departed. They learned later that the Chinese never even arrived at the ship.
With fourteen passengers, the bus was less than half full leaving numerous seats empty. Borders and Hill sat near the back, making it easy to keep an eye on Panama, who preferred the second seat from the front. He never struck up any conversations while Lady Brenda and Jeopardy played their part well, acting like schoolgirls away from home for the first time, a hint that this was not a vacation. They drove through wine country, the grapes, now at the presses, leaving barren vines. Two thousand years ago, this area was called Roman Provence, but with the downfall of the Roman Empire, it became known as Provence.
After an hour, the bus stopped for a bathroom break, much longed for and now vocally appreciated by the mostly seniors onboard. The outdoor bathrooms were two cement block buildings at the side of the road. Those expecting white porcelain toilets were sorely disappointed. Most had never seen two footprints and a pull chain and opted to wait until they found a more comfortable venue. Borders was not surprised to see that France had not quite made it into the twenty-first century.
After all the men had returned to the bus, Borders and Hill returned to the toilette, to satisfy curiosity. Borders had noticed earlier that six of the stalls seemed to be in use, although not one of the men from the bus had been inclined to use them. The stall doors remained locked, and there was nothing but stillness. No noise from bodily functions, or running water. Pulling himself up, Borders looked over one of the doors. His eyes widened. Hanging from the pull chain was a Chinese man. Checking the other stalls, they found five more victims. "This must be our missing tourists," he said. They wondered if these were spies or drug dealers. Marseille, a hub of French drug distribution was nearby. They also wondered if this was the work of 'Enigma' or minor drug gangs.
They had no intention of calling the police. They knew it was best to keep this crime under their hats. The involvement of police would mean an investigation, potential witnesses and statements. There would be a loss of today's tour, to say the very least. A background check would certainly spit out the information about them and the M-16 agents. They would be held in custody and suspected as individuals or as a group. The ship would sail without them and gone would be any chance to track their suspected terrorist.
They left the restroom, noticing that Jeopardy was the only one paying any attention to them. She soon averted her eyes. Most of the others were busy standing waiting to board the bus. Borders and Hill were the last to claim their seats. As the bus pulled away, they looked back at the outcast building, remembering the carnage inside.
YOU ARE READING
Mediterranean MissionMystery / Thriller
Mason Borders, operative for CSIS, has been given a new mission. He has to track a terrorist on a Mediterranean cruise. The ship will stop at a number of ports along the way. Any of the ports from Barcelona to Istanbul could be the target. While Bor...