The noisy tourists cascaded down the passageway, past Borders's cabin, excited, but also anxious. The ship had docked two hours later than expected, leaving them pressed for time in which to reach their waiting tourist guide. They assumed schedules to be rigid, and those arriving late for the appointed time would find themselves without a guide, the group moving on without them. In the end, they could only disembark as fast as security could punch them into his laptop, and to quote a saying, "we are all on the same boat."
When Borders arrived at the gangway, he stopped and searched the skies for the possibility of rain. The weather forecast warned of rain farther south, with overcast skies for them, and unbelievable as it may seem - the weatherman was correct, at least so far. The queue behind him nudged him forward, down a gangway that was quite steep, to a dock almost at water level. It took all his effort to cling on to the ropes that acted as hand rails. When the sense of safety touched the soles of their feet, they searched for a placard or sign that would lead them to their group.
A line of buses faced them but gave no indication as to which was hiding their tour guide. People looked around with faces of impending disaster. The passengers paid for enjoying a vacation, but they always seemed to walk around veiled under a black cloud, as if a calamity was inevitable. An officer from the ship, a black man, tall and muscular, shouted to get everyone's attention.
"These buses will take you to the parking lot where the tour buses are waiting. Just climb onto any bus. The parking lot is just two minutes away."
Borders' first inclination was to walk since it was going to take only two minutes. His second thought made him wonder why they would use a bus transfer for such a short span of time. By the time he made up his mind, he was being maneuvered onto the bus, so he went with the flow, finding a seat at the rear
Anticipating a trip that was only going to take two minutes, a number of extra people crowded onto the loaded bus, in lieu of proceeding to the next vehicle. The bus, now packed like a can of sardines, wound its way through everything that appeared nautical. Boats of all shapes and sizes covered the water and the docks. Deserted ships, rusting hulks and machinery of all shapes and sizes, working or abandoned, took up all available space. At a distance, they could see other cruise ships and Borders noticed them passing their ship for the third time. The two minutes had been an understatement.
Frowns and sour faces encased those standing, as the two minutes extended to twenty minutes and then a half hour. The line of buses snaked its way back and forth through the shipyard, eventually arriving at the much-anticipated parking lot. When Borders peered out the rear window, he was amazed to see that the ship did appear to be only two minutes away - as the crow flies.
They scrambled from the bus as soon as the doors bent open. Those who had spent the trip standing still grumbled about the cramps in their legs. Some, both seated and standing, voiced opinions that the excursion to Pisa would be cut short. The parking lot contained a number of buses, van and cars, all for the use of the tour guides. A search found their placard clasped by a lady with a tall cane, on the top of which was a rose.
"Welcome to Rosa's tour," she said.
Borders noticed with satisfaction, a white hat in their group. Panama stood a head above, all the others, making him easy to spot. At least they could keep an eye on him today. The group of twenty-one boarded another bus that took them yet again to another parking lot. Here, they found out it would take a set amount of walking to arrive at the leaning tower. "Of course," some grumbled. Panama sat near the front while Lady Brenda and Jeopardy sat near the center. Hill was glad they were with the group – it gave him a chance to keep an eye on them and to try and find out who they were.
The first four people stepped from the bus but could proceed no farther than five paces before being swarmed by small black men. A half dozen souvenir vendors attached themselves to the group making it impossible for anyone to move. The barrier finally gave way to pressure from those still trying to get off the bus. Umbrellas, postcards, and watches were the products shoved in their faces by the little black men who appeared to be no more than five feet tall. It crossed Borders's mind that they seemed to be clones. Maybe they were fortunate to be the first bus accosted because with sales lagging, they moved on to the next bus. Borders pitied the last bus, with nowhere to escape.
Grateful for that small stroke of good fortune, they walked around a treed corner of the parking lot. A new surprise was in store. Both sides of the road were lined with vendor's stalls and waiting little black men. There was no escape. As they weaved their way through the gauntlet, no one seemed to buy anything, which Borders thought must crush the sellers, but they showed no disappointment. They seemed to know something the tour didn't.
Walking on, they saw an occasional vendor, a dog sleeping on the sidewalk, and a few live statues. These men, completely covered in bronze or silver paint, sat, taking on the appearance of a statue. A cup at their feet begged donations. 'Another type of beggar.' They wandered along a Roman wall looking for an entrance that would take them towards the leaning tower. When they eventually turned into the anticipated archway, they immediately saw the leaning tower of Pisa. Although fully aware of what to expect, after having seen many photos, Borders was still surprised. 'That tower is crooked,' was his first thought. It stood behind and at the right corner of a sizable church. He had always thought of it as standing alone, in a park, with no hindrance for cameras. The tower, church and a large grassed area was surrounded by a Roman wall. Borders and Hill made their way around the enclosure, taking pictures of the tower from all angles and then they went their separate ways.
Through the center of the enclosure was a wooden walkway and on closer inspection Borders saw it fabricated from sheets of plywood. At each end, it was secured to 2x4's, however underneath the center there was no support. The sheets, when stepped on, would bend down while the sheet in front of it remained rigid. It was an accident looking to happen. As he made his way along the walkway, he overcame and got tied in with a group of Japanese tourists. Next to him an elderly man suddenly fell. Borders assumed he had tripped on the plywood. When he looked down, he saw the man was bleeding profusely from what looked like to his trained eye as a graze from a bullet.
Borders moved away - reasoning he might be putting lives in danger if a bullet meant for him went awry. Some of the man's friends gathered around helping him and complaining about the plywood, believing their friend had tripped and cut his head on the edge of the wood, which was a reasonable assumption
Hill moved away from the general area of the tower and its throngs of tourists trying to snap the perfect picture. Making his way to the wall along the right side of the tourist venue, he walked toward a group of lush trees that blanked out some parts of the wall. From this vantage point, he could see Borders entwined in a group of Japanese tourists. Suddenly, he saw a man fall. He watched as Borders looked down at the man, and then suddenly disengaged himself from the group. Instinctively Hill looked up at the wall behind him. He saw the glint of metal from the top of the wall, hidden by the overgrown tree. He was certain someone was there.
Walking along the wall, he discovered a narrow set of steps leading up to the top. Taking the gun from the back of his belt, he put on the suppressor. Quietly, he walked up the steps, being careful, not to step on loose rocks or dislodge any bricks. Time was of the essence. He knew the shooter was preparing for another shot. As his head rose above the level of the top step, he could clearly see a man, his rifle resting on his shoulder, sighting in on his victim. Hill leveled his pistol at the man, took careful aim and then fired. The round hit the man behind the right ear, throwing him sideways. Hill blew out his cheeks and crept back down the steps. Tucking his pistol into the back of his belt, he went in search of Borders. He would say nothing about his action.
The encounter had not gone unnoticed. Lady Brenda and Jeopardy watched from the side of the church, where the bright sun cast a dark shadow. They were keeping an eye on Borders, and when the Japanese tourist went down, Jeopardy's heart skipped a beat. She scanned the area for a shooter. Soon, she saw Hill climbing a built in stairs at the side wall. She was unable to see the assailant, thoroughly hidden behind a large tree. When she saw Hill fire, she knew the shooter was down. Her heart returned to its regular rhythm.
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...