With overcast skies threating rain, the bus drove past Naples, passengers staring out the window, some wide-eyed, others with blank stares. Perhaps some wondered if there was anything to see in Naples, missing out on something, on their once in a lifetime trip. No one seemed to remember if the city gained notoriety for anything important except crime. Many of the passengers, not having paid attention to any weather forecast, wore sandals, and now had wet feet from the walk to the bus. The buildings they passed were worn and dilapidated, giving one the impression that Roman engineering had been going downhill for the past two thousand years. A look at buildings being constructed didn't change that viewpoint.
Soon, they were touring Pompeii, a city that two-thousand years ago had a population of over twenty-thousand people. In 79 AD, it was covered by soot and ash as Mount Vesuvius erupted, killing three thousand of its inhabitants. This site is considered to be one of the few sites where an ancient city preserved as it once was and open to the public.
The two men marveled at the wide streets and sidewalks - streets lined with stores and homes. Stepping stones took them across the street, from one sidewalk to another. These stepping stones kept the ancients from stepping into the filth that filled the street, washed away only with the help of rain. These were in stark contrast to some modern day streets in Rome. Narrow side streets had wagon wheel ruts two inches deep. The stepping stones were aligned to allow the passage of these wagon wheels. Borders wondered how many wagons and how many years it took to make those ruts.
The guide stopped at one of the stores, to explain its operation.
"This is the store that sold wine," she said. "This is the counter in the front and at one end you can see three small shelves that held items for sale. At the other end of the counter was the entrance. There is a groove in the stone floor at one time used for a sliding door. As you walk inside you can see a small stove for cooking. At the back of the store are two rooms, one is a small restaurant and the other is a room for gambling." It appeared nothing had changed much in two-thousand years.
As they walked along, Panama, snapping photos left and right, had lagged behind, so that now he was walking near Borders. Around them, hands waved left and right as everyone became annoyed by a large number of flies. The guide stopped and pointed to a building that displayed small male and female statues standing in small niches. It was an ancient brothel. Panama nudged Borders with his elbow.
"Now I know why all the flies are here," he said, with a slight chuckle.
He did have a sense of humor, after all.
They moved through the streets, past venues and homes of the affluent. They entered a men's bath that was next door to a women's bath. Unfortunately, the powers that be had torn down the women's bath to make room for a modern restaurant. Borders peeked inside but failed to see any customers. It was apparent that not much thought had gone into the construction of this eatery. Most of the tourists were with a tour group, and tour guides didn't stop to let someone visit a restaurant - unless it was part of their routine. Maybe a bribe would have helped.
The interior of the bath became crowded as more groups pressed forward. The Americans shoved and elbowed their way to the front of each exhibit prompting Borders to wonder if they were part of a Roller Derby team or consistent Black Friday shoppers. As they neared the exit, they saw the plaster casts of those who did not survive. Some lay on their backs, others on their sides, arms raised, seeking protection that didn't help. What got the most attention was a seated dwarf slave, still chained. His hands rested on his lap, ready to accept his fate.
As they left the ruins, on the way back to the bus, they walked through an area of souvenir shops and small restaurants filled with customers, in contrast to the one among the ruins. In the center of the street, stood one Roman soldier in full dress, hoping for a tourist with a camera - and twenty euros. The group loosely formed around the guide, waiting for the bus, to take them to the Amalfi Coast and the drive across one of Europe's most breathtaking coastal landscapes. First the guide did a head count and then called out the names finding two people missing. The two English women were nowhere in sight. After a short debate, it was decided to leave without them, for the next leg of the trip, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. They could catch the bus when it returned back the same way.
Borders and Hill discussed this new turn of events. Where were the two agents? Were they staying behind to work their assignment, or had they gone on ahead? They decided that Hill should get off the bus at Sorrento, while Borders continued on with Panama.
Lady Brenda and Jeopardy crept around the edge of the tour group, holding back, and waiting, for the opportunity to disappear. Their act as two dizzy females was working well. Standing near their guide, who paid no attention to them, they were able to hear her cell conversation. It seemed another assassination attempt was in the works, and the guide was handing over this part of the tour to someone else.
With the unsolicited help from the tour guide, the two M-16 agents knew the time and the place of the next attack. The problem was getting there. This time the method of attack was a bomb attached to the bus as it drove along the Amalfi Coast. The exploding bomb would push the bus over the cliff. To the entire world, it would seem like an accident, another group of tourists killed on a bus. The job would certainly have been ramped up a notch. Killing forty passengers on a bus seemed to cause no concern. The agents wondered how the bomb would get attached to the bus.
A plan had already formed in Jeopardy's mind. They had to get away from the group and get the use of some vehicle. As the group moved towards the staging area, the two women lingered, waiting for the group, to walk out of view. Later, as they looked around, they caught sight of a rental agency. Within minutes, they had rented a motorcycle and were on their way, ahead of the bus that was still waiting for two missing passengers.
Jeopardy drove while Lady Brenda sat behind. Their destination was Sorrento and the start of the Formula 1 race. The bus would have to stop there, wait until all the cars had departed, and then continue on its way. The ladies planned to stop at Sorrento and keep an eye on the bus. They knew that this would be the only opportunity to place a bomb on it. As they hid themselves in the corner of a souvenir shop, they caught sight of the bus lumbering through the crowded street, with wide eyed and open mouthed passengers pressing against the window. Race officials, bystanders and the bus passengers watched as the last of the Formula 1 cars raced up the hill and disappeared around the first turn.
With the race now started, the tour bus was free to continue on its way. It lumbered up the hill with a grinding of gears and a cloud of black smoke. Lady Brenda and Jeopardy watched it disappear, convinced there was no bomb on the bus at this time.
"They must plan to place a bomb the bus while on route," said Jeopardy.
"That might prove to be difficult, what are we going to do?" asked Lady Brenda.
The words had no sooner fallen from her mouth, when from behind the spectators, another Formula 1 thundered to life. It terrorized its way through the crowd of onlookers and rushed up the hill.
"We have to find a fast car," said Jeopardy. "I have to get behind that car and keep the bus in sight. Let's look and see what we can find."
They made their way to the staging area where all the cars were kept prior to the race. As they looked around, their eyes fell on an unguarded Formula 1 car. They reasoned that one team must be well financed and held a car in reserve. Jeopardy jumped behind the wheel, turned the key and yes it worked.
"Follow me on the bike," she told Lady Brenda. "I may need you to pick me up."
With that, she put on her helmet and pulled away, the sound of the engine forcing people aside. Free of the crowd, she pressed the pedal to the floor, and the car leapt forward, leaving the crowd to stare. She sped up the hill, took the first turn and disappeared out of sight. Lady Brenda lagged behind. The road was a challenge at any time, but speeding in a Formula 1 was heart stopping. Turns were sharp on a road that clung to the rock face that dropped hundreds of feet to the ocean below.
Jeopardy had the road to herself. With the race having started, there would be no vehicles coming in her direction. She followed the curves of the road, dipping in and out of the rock face. Wheels skidded on minute shoulders sending pebbles down over the side. A wheel over the edge could mean certain death. Ahead, a column of smoke grabbed her attention. Panic stabbed her in the gut. 'Oh no, not the bus, she was too late.'
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...