Chapter 11

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The attacker was a big man, powerful, confident, but a wet deck soaked by the rain was the equalizer. Borders, grabbing the man's wrist before the knife struck home, stopping the blade just inches from his face. The slippery wood may have slowed the assailant down, but didn't stop his attack. What should have been a quick slice of the carotid artery, now ended in a locked battle? Borders slipped, falling backward, dragging the big man with him. They crashed onto a table, stretching its cheap legs, sending chairs spinning away. The fall had caused Borders to lose his grip on the man's wrist. The man rolled off Borders, rose, then slashed at him with his knife, cutting him across the thigh. The attacker kept after him, the wind and rain slowing his advance but not his attack.

Borders arose and kicked the man in the groin sending him backward, unfortunately not enough to cause him to fall. Again he came forward, grabbing a chair, tossing it aside and forcing Borders to the railing. He lunged for him, but Borders stepped aside, leaving the man to crash against the barrier. Borders waited for the next onslaught as the man turned and prepared to lunge. He took two slippery steps, and then seemed to stop, suddenly falling backwards with small steps up against the railing, when the hand of God or a strong gust of wind nudged him over the side.

Borders stood for a few seconds, staring at the now empty space, and then made his way to the railing. He looked over the side, but with the choppy water, and the lashing winds, there was nothing to see. The assailant had disappeared - another human devoured by the Mediterranean. Turning away, he fought his way through the wind and rain to the other side of the deck and an elevator. There, finally, he found it waiting, empty and no one in sight.

Lady Brenda and Jeopardy watched the confrontation from behind the shadows. They had followed Borders, intending to make him a statistic on the list of drunken tourists who fell overboard. They had been dismayed to find someone else in the darkness waiting for him, someone with possibly unfriendly intentions. Watching the fight and fearing that Borders would lose, Jeopardy had thrown a knife, putting the assailant out of commission. They were overjoyed to see him fall overboard, eliminating any chance that Borders would find out about the knife. Jeopardy rolled around the thought of finishing the job right then, but two missing passengers might be hard to explain. It would involve a big investigation, and one could never know where they might lead. She looked at Lady Brenda, who just shook her head. 'There were many days left to the cruise.'

Borders was pleased Hill was at the floor show. It would give him time to clean up and get rid of the bloody clothing. In his cabin, he patched up his thigh and then put the wet and bloody clothing in a plastic bag. In the passageway, he dropped the plastic bag in one of the cleaner's carts and hoped Hill wouldn't notice the missing clothes. He didn't want his partner to worry, but he would eventually have to tell him.

The next morning his leg still hurt and besides the cut, he had bruises on his face, and some pulled leg muscles. He tried his best not to hobble around, but it was obvious he wouldn't be able to hide his condition. It didn't take long for Hill to see him limping that invited questions.

"What happened to you?" he asked.

Borders explained the activity from the night before, trying his best to downplay the encounter.

"It looks like someone knows who we are," said Hill. "Could it be our friend in the white hat?"

"He wasn't the one who went over the railing, nor was he anywhere in sight," said Borders.

"Will you be able to go on the tour?" Hill then asked.

"Of course," he replied. "It's just a scratch and the stiff muscles will be okay after I walk a bit."

They noticed a slight rock to the ship, so turned T.V. on to catch the weather. It seemed they were still in the grip of the storm. Thunder rolled, and lightning flashed, and the ship seemed to be going in circles. At the buffet, they overheard news of an accident during the night. Rumors swirled about that one of the entertainers who had just boarded yesterday might have fallen overboard. His roommate had said he had not returned to his cabin after going for a late night snack. The ship was now going in circles, searching the area, hoping to find him. With the storm still raging, recovery was doubtful.

Eventually, the search was called off, but there was still hope of finding the lost passenger, asleep or passed out somewhere on the ship. By the time, they reached the port near Rome the storm had abated, as well as memories of the lost passenger. Spots of rain clouds still persisted, so both men decided to wear raincoats – better to be safe than sorry.

As they left the ship, they saw a fleet of buses waiting - many of them parked in puddles. These buses were the transportation to an area near the train station where the guide would be waiting with their tour bus. Passengers crowded onto the bus, filling seats and leaving some standing. Eventually, they arrived at the staging area, and everyone left the bus in search of their tour group. The area became cramped as more buses came. The duo found their guide who directed them to a waiting area. Here, they were plagued by umbrella sellers, the tiny clones, in their glory now that there was a slight drizzle.

Buses came, dropped off passengers and left while the two men waited. Finally, a roll call was taken, but their name was missing from the list. After an inquiry, they learned that this group had two busses, one for the Colosseum and one for the Vatican. Borders and Hill booked their time for the Colosseum, and that bus had already left. The guide made a quick call to the departed bus and learned that each bus had four misplaced passengers. Plans were made to stop at a rest stop and have a prisoner exchange.

It was after these arrangements that Borders caught sight of Panama coming towards them - his face masked in a familiar scowl. He too had missed the bus. Borders wondered if this slight problem justified such a frown. Had he actually intended to go to the Coliseum, but picked the wrong tour? Was the Coliseum the target? A bomb there would certainly attract attention, and wasn't that what terrorism all about, attention?

The bus hurried along its way to the exchange destination. Panama sat up front, his face red, his anger visible, holding back his temper. Would a few minutes late disrupt his schedule so much? Did he have an agenda different than the rest of us? Although he was angry, it was nothing compared to a woman who sat halfway down the aisle, her complaints quite vocal.

"You ruined my trip," she screamed. "I paid a lot of money for this cruise and a trip to the Vatican and now I'm not there because you can't follow directions."

She glared at Borders and Hill.

"The day is half over, and I'm still not there," she continued.

She remained in a state of agitation - her lips pressed tightly together, her world shattered. Some frowns joined hers, apparently in agreement. Seasoned travellers ignored her.

The bus made its way to the exchange destination, and pulled up beside the waiting bus that was devoid of passengers. All of them had gone to the gift shop. When the second bus stopped and opened its doors, everyone jumped off and made a mad dash for the gift shop. Borders and Hill made their way to the other bus along with Panama. Within minutes, the missing passengers, souvenirs tucked under their arms returned to the bus and the tour guide called out names, instead of just a head count as she had done previously. Confirming all were present, the bus pulled away. As Borders looked out the rear window, he saw the agitated woman standing by the empty bus, her mood as the clouds above. Borders wondered if she realized the mix-up had no impact on her schedule, and then he wondered if Panama felt the same way.


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