'What's the matter with these Italians?' thought Borders. After seeing a merry-go-round in Florence, he never gave it a second thought. But now, as he sat on the bus on his way to the Colosseum, he noticed other merry-go-rounds, sitting on vacant lots, not moving, not going in circles, no bouncing horses. Were these brightly colored carousels destined to follow the path of other attractions, destined to rot in the sun? The Colosseum, Hadrian's Gate and Circus Maximus, crumbling, stones turning to pebbles, while tourists stared, shocked at the neglect and seniors remembered their childhood.
He thought of Nova Scotia and the Fortress of Louisburg. Two-hundred and fifty years ago the English pounded it to dust, but fifty years ago, it was rebuilt as a tourist attraction, filled with period furniture and people to play the part of soldiers and citizens. No one would come to see dust, but they would come to see a French fortress. Rome made a fortune from its attractions, but didn't contribute any Euros to its upkeep.
The bus passed by the Circus Maximus, most of the passengers oblivious of its history. At its height it could accommodate 150,000 spectators for the chariot races, but now it was just a local park to accommodate dog walkers. Although called a park, it was more like an empty field with a shortage of grass and the Circus Maximus buried far below.
There was a light rain as they departed the bus, and strange as it seemed, there were no umbrella sellers in sight. 'Maybe they only worked in fine weather.' Men dressed as Roman soldiers stood at the top of a flight of steps leading down to the Colosseum. They smiled and waved their fake swords, hoping someone would take their photo for a fee of twenty Euros. Because of infighting among the different groups, they were banned from loitering near the entrance. Authorities frowned on these Roman soldiers shedding blood.
Borders and Hill made their way into the Colosseum, a structure that would be condemned anywhere else. Pock marks covered the stone pillars, as if put there by large round ammunition. The edges of the marble steps were worn down a few inches by the millions of feet placed there, over the hundreds of years. The tour guide took care of the entrance fees and then they were free to wander for two hours. 'What could a guide say about the structure that everyone should have known about?' It rained a little heavier and Borders wondered if fifteen hundred years of rain could wash the blood away.
Along with the four hundred other tourists, they took photos of the crumbling structure and let imagination run wild. Borders kept close to Panama. Two cameras hung from his neck, which he used to snap photos at every possible angle. Were these photos to lay out his groundwork or was he just a madcap photographer? As his eyes wandered over the background scene Borders wondered how many people had died here, how much blood was in its sand? Restoration and upkeep would have made this a magnificent outdoor theatre, instead of a crumbling hulk. Perhaps the blood of the Romans had been diluted to such a state that it no longer entertained advancement. They seemed to be content to act as soldiers and sell umbrellas in the street. The skies cleared as they left the Colosseum and it was time for the walking tour.
Umbrella sellers and knick-knack venders were all part of the underground economy. They stood on street corners and near famous landmarks peddling their wares to any tourist within sight. Rome has a vast number of wells and fountains, a part of the "underwater economy." With wishes and dreams, they tossed their coins into the water, hoping they would come true. The most audacious of these was the Trevi Fountain, the largest in Rome and one of the most famous in the world. Here, tourists jostled for a spot to toss their coins into the fountain. Tradition has it that you will return to Rome if you toss in a coin. It appeared that many wanted to return, because it is estimated that 3000 Euros are tossed into the fountain each day. The coin should be tossed over the left shoulder with the right hand, with your back to the water. As you can well expect with money lying about, there are frequent attempts to steal some coins.
With their backs to the Trevi Fountain, the walking tour continued to view more fountains, statues and decaying buildings. Finally, they arrived at the Pantheon, the old building in stark contrast to other landmarks, being one of the best preserved buildings in Rome. It is almost 2000 years old and has been in continual use since it was built. Since the 7th century it has been used as a Catholic church with masses still celebrated on special occasions.
After a few more hours of walking, they arrived at St. Peters Square and the end of the tour. There was one hour remaining before they boarded the bus and meet up with those who had chosen the Vatican for their tour. There would be no time to go into the Basilica. The square was awash with tourists, crisscrossing the square in a lineup at least a mile long with a security checkpoint at the end. Borders wondered if Panama had not anticipated this lineup, and signing up for the wrong tour had dashed his plans. Would he now remain with the tour group or suddenly disappear?
Staring beyond the crowd, Borders looked for Panama but he was nowhere in sight. There would be no way he would be in the lineup. Had he found another way into the Basilica? Was this still the target? Would the area be rocked by an explosion? He frantically searched for a white hat but could not find Panama. Soon, the hour was up for everyone to meet at the designated spot near the corner of the square. In time, everyone arrived, including Panama. Borders wondered if he had left a time bomb behind.
Like Kindergarten students, the group followed the tour guide who led them to an underground bus terminal. With everyone on the bus, it was packed, with no empty seats. Again Borders and Hill had to submit to the abuse of the crazy woman. She still ranted.
"You ruined my trip," she kept saying. "I paid a fortune for this trip and you ruined it."
Borders thought she was deranged. Hill wanted to throw her off the bus. But in the end, there was a silver lining. The tour had included tourists from two ships, and she was on the other ship. When the bus stopped at the first ship and she departed, everyone clapped their hands.
When they returned to their cabins, they were surprised to find an elephant waiting in the room. Although it was one of a smaller variety, they couldn't help but smile. The maid had twisted the bath towel into the shape of an elephant and placed it on the bed, along with a few sheets of information. The information was a warning about their next port of call, Naples. Hill read it over and passed on the gist of it. 'Be careful in Naples. Stay with your tour group, don't wander around alone. Be careful what you buy. Don't buy any electronics.' Both men were aware of the reputation of Naples as a Mafia conclave.
The next morning, with each of their money belts holding 100 euros strapped on, it was time for a tour of Naples. To visit the city, a photo ID was required, so everyone would carry their ship ID. M-16's were vividly on sight as they made their way down the ramp, which heightened their anxiety. The sight of giant flower pots did nothing to alleviate this. The large stone pots, which were about five feet high and three feet across, were positioned along the dock. What grabbed their attention were the large link chains that secured them to the cement. They couldn't imagine anyone stealing these dirt filled urns, with or without a chain.
The storm the night before had drenched the city but it did not leave it fresh and clean. Instead it smelled like mould, wet fungus. The group walked in ones and two's, strung out in a haphazard line. Borders saw a man approaching them, and as he watched, he noticed everyone in the group, either consciously or unconsciously, move to the left, giving him a wide berth. Some men put a hand on the pocket that held their wallet, while women clasped tighter to their purse strap. It seemed everyone had read the information sheets from the previous night.
They soon arrived at the parking lot and found the waiting tour guide, who told them the tour of Naples was cancelled because of the night's rain. The city was flooded. They would immediately go on the second part of the tour, Pompeii. Faces looked relieved. They had seen too many Mafia movies and had no desire to be in their back yard. As they drove from the parking lot, they caught a glimpse of what they believed to be the smallest gas station in the world. On a main thoroughfare, pressed against the stone barrier, were one pump and a small enclosure. Inside the enclosure was one man standing with a cash register. It appeared that anyone wanting gas just stopped on the road and prayed no one hit him from behind. Some wondered if it was Mafia gas station.
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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...