Hill watched Borders as he disappeared behind the doors of a courtyard. He saw him wander off, without a word, to follow the man in the Panama hat. Borders suspected this man was the potential terrorist, but Hill held his speculation to himself. He thought this would be a simple assignment, just go with Borders and keep an eye open for a man in a white hat. There had been many men with white hats, but Borders seemed convinced that he was the correct one. There had been two attempts on Borders's life so far, and he hadn't been making it easy. He was always poking his nose somewhere. Now, there he was again, wandering into a shaded courtyard. God knows what could be in there.
Hill meandered around people, making his way to the courtyard and no one batted an eye or wondered if he belonged there. Dirt, weeds, filthy windows – just what he expected. No one was about, gratefully no bodies. He saw the partially open door and pushed it slowly aside. The squeak he imagined to be louder than it actually was. Not seeing Borders or anyone else, nor hearing any sounds, he slipped inside. As he moved farther into the inner of the building, he heard ahead of him garbled voices, then a recognizable pop. He stopped in his tracks. Had a third attempt been successful?
He slowly moved towards the sounds, expecting to see Borders any time stretched out on the ground. Easing his .45 into his hand, he moved along the shadows, step by step making his way towards the men. Three men in masks were looking at a third one on the ground. Hill took note that it wasn't his partner. Keeping himself wrapped in darkness, he looked around, scouring the shadows as best he could. Finally, he caught a glimpse of Borders tucked in behind a column. 'Safe and sound, brother,' he thought. One of the men said a few words, indistinguishable at Hill's distance, and then the three of them slipped through a side door. Hill watched Borders remain crouched for a few more minutes, and then follow the three men.
Hill walked over to the dead man and recognized him as the one with the garrote. Realizing the danger, he ran after Borders. Once outside, he was just in time to see the three men, still wearing their masks drive off on individual mopeds. Borders was standing in the street, watching them drive away. Not wanting to be seen, Hill stepped back into the building and hoped Borders didn't have the same idea. He backtracked into the shadows waiting for him to reenter. A few minutes passed, but still he remained alone. Going back to the door, he then stepped outside. Borders was nowhere in sight.
Borders watched as the terrorists sped away on mopeds, soon lost among the throngs of tourists and shoppers. There was nothing left for him to do, but find his way back to his tour group. He wandered in what he thought was the general direction and found Rosa under the floating rose. She was snuggled in by tour groups in the giant square called Piazza della Signoria, the heart of the historic center of Florence. He tagged along with the group, listening to but not hearing any commentary. Passing a copy of Michelangelo's David he wondered if children in Italy had sex education - probably not needed.
The five story buildings had the color scheme of other Renaissance buildings. In England, it was white and brown. Here, they were two shades of green. But there was something different about them. They seemed shabby, dirty, covered in smoky pollution, sorely in need of fresh paint. Perhaps they hadn't been painted for a hundred years. A bicycle passed in front of him - its wheels barely moving among the crowd. The front wheel vibrated as the woman fought to keep upright. Different languages pressed against him, and the bicycle was soon out of sight.
Street artists brushed dirt from the degraded sidewalks, and then laid out murals in chalk, immortalizing faces of men and women if only for a day as feet would grind them into colored dust. In a small square, a merry-go-round spins in its continuous circle while its tinny music calls out to children. Eventually, the group arrived at Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, a favorite of painters and sketchers. The bridge has buildings lined on both sides with a road through the center. Teeming crowds wander the street shopping in stores that sell both old and new gold. The backs of the buildings hang out over the bridge held up by wooden support beams. 'Building codes must be non-existent.'
Where was Panama? Borders stretched his neck, looking as best he could over the heads of those on the bridge, but he was nowhere in sight. Not even one white hat was visible. Borders wondered if he had made a mistake, was there a bomb on the bridge? Was this the soft target? It would certainly have a large number of casualties, probably a few hundred. It was a famous landmark, built in the fourteenth century - the only bridge not destroyed in the Second World War.
Borders' face turned gloomy. To fail in this assignment would not be a crowning glory to his career. He saw two steps leading into a home, so, he stood on the second step giving him a better view. Ahead he saw Rosa and nearby was Panama, his hat in his hand and as usual with a scowl on his face. The bridge was not the target. Panama took photos in all directions. Borders stepped down from his perch, not wanting Panama to catch him staring. He looked to the left as the camera swung in his direction.
With photos taken, the group was on the move again. This time they hovered at the bronze doors depicting scenes from the Old Testament. Iron bars in front keep out touching hands. Tourists scrambled over each other to take photos of this Renaissance masterpiece, not knowing it was a copy, the originals on display in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. 'What you don't know won't hurt you.' Borders knew this to be untrue. What you don't know could hurt you, especially if it were a bomb. Borders paid little attention to Panama. It didn't look like he would be causing any trouble today.
A quick view of Michelangelo's tomb and then with a rush everyone followed Rosa. They needed to find their waiting bus, trapped with some others. The tour group was expected back at the ship at 5:30 and time was closing in on them. Overcast skies hinted at doom. Aboard the bus, a hasty count gave the right amount of bodies, and it was a fast trip to the ship. All was quiet as many slept, tired from the extended walk, their snores a chorus for the remaining travellers.
They arrived at the ship in the nick of time, met with I.D. scans, scowls and furrowed eyebrows. The ship was programmed to leave at 6:30 and security looked upon them as holding up the whole procedure. Everyone scurried to their cabins lest punishment would be doled out. At 6:30, the ship did not move. It stayed moored to the dock, its destiny in the wind. The guests, filling their faces and spending their money hardly noticed.
The crew gossiped and from them Borders learned that the ship was awaiting two more passengers due to fly in from Marseilles. This action was not unusual, and they believed it to be new entertainment for the Floorshow. Entertainers came and went, at ports of call, leaving one ship and embarking on another, but this was the first time they had seen someone fly in from another country. Perhaps they were new, and this was their first ship, their absence leaving a gaping hole in the entertainment.
Borders and Hill opted for dinner in one of the dining rooms instead of the buffet. They had noticed this evening that the main course was trout. At 7:00, as they sat at their table with a window view, they saw the ship slipping away from the port. The two new passengers must have arrived. All was right with the world.
A clap of thunder opened the skies, and rain overtook the ship. It splattered against the window erasing visibility. After dinner, Hill decided to take in the floorshow, get a look at the new entertainers. Borders would return to his room. They parted company and Borders headed across the weather deck that was open to the sky and the rain that fell. The elevator to his deck was on the opposite side.
Its upper deck was empty, its hot tubs filling with rain water, the deck chairs getting a much-needed cleaning, the water pushing the accumulated dried sweat of perspiring bodies to the deck below. The wind slapped him, pushing him aside, making it demanding to keep his balance. It was difficult to move forward, and he put out his hands to grasp on to the railing, trying to stay upright. From the corner of his eye, he saw someone else clinging to the railing, someone as foolhardy as himself. As he moved along the railing, a hand grabbed him by the sleeve. He turned to see a knife attempting to intersect with his throat.
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...