Borders had now seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa - the life changing event was over, although he still felt much the same. He wondered about the Japanese gentleman. Was it a graze from a bullet? Since nothing else happened, he began to doubt himself. Perhaps it was a cut from the plywood. The cuts to his fingers from the day before still felt painful. Maybe it was making him imagine things – seeing an assassin behind every tree. Better to push this from his mind and get back to the problem at hand.
Now it was time for the second leg of the day's journey, a visit to the beautiful city of Florence. All they had to do was jump back on the bus, which was easier said than done. Along the way, they separated into pairs or small groups, except for Panama, who walked alone. During this walk, Borders realized why the sellers remained upbeat even when they failed to sell anything. The tourists had to return by the same route, giving them an ample opportunity to make a sale.
Again they stepped around the dog still sleeping on the sidewalk, past a few souvenir stores, and the human statue, where no one parted with coins. Reluctantly they re-entered the lineup of seller's booths. Their reception was considerably different from the first encounter. This time the little men attached themselves to them like leeches. It brought new meaning to the term "in your face." Hardly anyone survived the gauntlet without obtaining at least one item - Borders included. He replaced his baseball cap with the purchase of a Fedora, something he had planned on doing since he was not fond of baseball caps. Panama had a small bag tucked under his arm and a frown on his face.
Arriving at the end of the booths, Rosa did her head count? To no-one's surprise, the Americans were absent. Everyone waited, some taking deep breaths. Panama lingered at the rear of the group as Borders watched him from the corner of his eye. Slowly he wandered behind one of the vendor's tents. Borders couldn't follow him without calling attention to himself - so he watched as best as he could. A sudden breeze blew two tent flaps apart revealing Panama and an Arab in a heated conversation. 'I wish I had learned to read lips,' thought Borders.
About twenty minutes later, they caught sight of the missing Americans nearing the far end of the gauntlet. They wandered from booth to booth, touching and feeling - the schedule was meaningless. The passengers stood in a group and waited, some with frowns, others shaking their heads. Slowly, they meandered towards the group, smiles on their faces, with not a care in the world.
"We have a schedule to stick to, and if you are late again, we leave without you," said Rosa.
Faces dropped, lips pouted, and the group gave a silent cheer for Rosa. It appeared she was not shy, nor did she worry about political correctness. It didn't matter if they were from L.A. The reprimand had taken Borders's attention, so that when he next looked for Panama, he found him now mixed with the group. There was no sight of the Arab.
As they returned to the parking lot, they had completely forgotten about the small black men who now encircled the busses. As they neared their bus, the group appeared to be in hand to hand combat. Borders pictured Romans with shield and gladius, fighting their way through barbarian hordes. His person experience was with someone trying to sell him a watch. Borders pointed to the watch on his arm, but to no avail. After all, he did have two arms. The little man hung on to him like a Siamese twin until he was finally able to break free and climb onto the bus.
Staring out the window, he saw that most of his fellow passengers were still up to their neck in a struggle, trying to escape to the safety of their seat. His personal nemesis had not given up on him. He stood outside the window, pointing to the watches that covered his arms, his face as overcast as the sky above. He looked as if he had lost a best friend. Loaded with people, parcels and Borders's new hat, the bus finally pulled away, leaving a group of forlorn faces to wait and do battle with another tour group.
They drove with overcast skies, past fields of sunflowers, no longer sunny, but dry and drooping - their short life ending. In Florence, the bus dropped them off for another walking tour. As they followed Rosa, her flower held high in the air, with a running commentary on Venice for all to hear. Staying at the rear of the group so they could keep an eye on Panama, Borders and Hill heard none of it. Rosa walked quite fast because of their late arrival. As they weaved in and out of other tour groups and the occasional local, the group was strung out at times, with Rosa lost at a distance. Finally, they were given downtime, with strict words to pay attention to time.
As Hill snapped photos of the surrounding scenes, Borders took a few photos of Panama, an interest more to his liking. He wandered off to a side street, and Borders followed, keeping a safe distance back, hoping to stay out of sight. The streets here were wider than in France with congestion most likely due to the influx of tourists. They wandered up one of the narrow streets, and at a distance Borders saw three people wearing the colorful Paper-Mache masks for which Venice and Florence had become famous. They ran up the street in his direction, laughing at the top of their lungs. They passed Panama, and he stopped and watched them pass. As they rushed by Borders, one stopped, tilted his head and stared at him, the Zanni nose almost touching his. A few seconds later he let out a loud laugh, and then hurried to catch his friends. Borders stared after them for a moment, forgetting about Panama. When he turned back, Panama was just disappearing around a corner.
As Borders moved quickly along - in his pursuit of Panama, people flung stares at him. Then looked behind him to see if he was being chased, perhaps thinking he was a pickpocket or another type of criminal, with the police hot on his heels. When they saw nothing was amiss, they went about their own business, in their thoughts, and within seconds Borders was forgotten. When he reached the corner, he stopped and pressed his back against the brick wall. He wanted to glance around the corner slowly. It certainly wouldn't do for Panama to see him on his trail.
Gradually, he poked his head around the corner and saw his quarry about a block ahead, walking forward, his eyes glued to the front. Borders retreated back into his role as a nosy tourist, walking into shops, pretending to look at this and that, and just as quickly out again. Some of the time he walked on the sidewalk, while, at other times, he took to the street, which everyone seemed to treat as a footpath, the absence of cars being noticeable. Even bike traffic was rare, with women riders only.
Panama became entangled in a group of people, at which time he removed his hat. To Borders's dismay, with the movement of the crowd, Panama now became invisible, a part of another and somewhat larger tour group. Borders moved ahead quickly, disregarding the possibility of being exposed. As he neared the group, he was still unable to locate him. Arriving at the approximate spot where he last saw him, he noticed a set of open doors, possibly used for loading and unloading. Peeking around the other side of the door, he saw an empty courtyard. Thinking perhaps Panama had entered there, he ventured in for a broader look.
The courtyard was small, just large enough for two small cars to squeeze in. On both sides, weeds clung to rotting bricks and cement that had almost turned to sand, its grains falling to the ground covered with patches of starving grass. A few cobblestones, rooted in the dirt were reminiscent of past glories. The far wall of the building had a door and a few windows. Grime encrusted the windows, keeping out prying eyes. 'In for a dime, in for a dollar,' Borders thought as he gingerly stepped toward the door. It was open a crack, not enough to allow him entry. He nudged the door, opening it wider. 'Thank-God it didn't creak.' Once inside, he closed the door to where he had found it. The partially closed door helped smother the noise from the street, allowing him to tune into any conversation within the building.
This one-time factory had seen better days. It appeared not to have had any use for decades. Weeds fought through cracks in the cement floor, seeking its essence of life. Borders moved slowly inward, listening, hoping for voices. After a while, his wishes were answered with unintelligible words some distance from him. Carefully, he made his way forward watching for broken wine bottles and discarded rubble. Finally, he caught sight of four men near a rear door - all were previous acquaintances. One was the man with the garrote, and the other three still wore their masks. They were having an argument, and it did not seem to be going well for the man with the garrote. Raised voices did not help Borders with his limited knowledge of Italian.
Suddenly the man with the Zanni nose pulled out a gun, waved it around and then without hesitation shot the garrote man in the head. He dropped like a sack of potatoes.
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...