Entered through one of the gates the group looked upon a space that had similarities to a large cavern with a maze of paths leading in all directions. Lights reflected off metal souvenirs, and cramped stalls that lined the paths with what looked like flea market items. Clothing, like coats, belts and scarves filled the other stalls. As they looked around Borders noticed that most of the buyers were tourists. There didn't seem to be any locals on the purchasing side. He also noticed that the tourists didn't venture too far from the entrance, perhaps afraid of the maze.
It was a giant warehouse with paths covered in black cobblestones. The roof gave the appearance of a starless sky that lacked even their crescent moon. At a crossroad, Borders noticed that some of the paths were completely void of people. But he knew that the sellers were there, like carnivorous fish, waiting to pounce on anyone that walked within range. The two men bought nothing. They were not interested in necklaces, rings and knockoff watches.
Although unheard, they were acutely aware of the pitter-patter of small feet, mice scurrying from one stall to another. 'Where was the Pied Piper when you needed him?' No cats were in sight. Perhaps they were aware that meals were within a paws reach, and it wasn't necessary to over work. It was a feline welfare system.
Not interested in shopping, Borders and Hill left the Bazar and made their way up the street. Panama, again, was no longer in sight, and there was no way of finding him. They just hoped he would show up at the bus. They decided to stop at one of the restaurants for lunch, which was easier said than done. All the places seemed to be full. Near the spot where they had been dropped off, they found a table with three vacant chairs.
The eatery was a long room about twelve feet wide. On one side was a counter displaying sandwiches while the other wall lined with tables and chairs. Half-way along this wall was a cash register, where a man stood ringing in receipts. Near him stood another man, presumably the owner, watching him punch in the numbers, as well as keeping an eye on the customers.
A waiter brought menus as well as an ashtray filled with sugar cubes. Borders noticed that all the other tables had ashtrays as smoking was still an important pastime. Nowhere was there an ashtray filled with sugar cubes. Maybe the waiter noticed the empty shirt pocket where men carried their cigarettes, maybe he thought most foreigners didn't smoke, or perhaps it was something else.
After finishing their meal, Borders was pointed in the direction of the washroom. He walked through the center of the long room, up a flight of stairs, through the kitchen, to a small washroom that served all. He was aware that overpopulation reduced shyness. On his return trip, cooks watched as he sidestepped waiters, and when he returned to his table, he saw a man occupying the empty chair while a woman stood nearby waiting, anxious for Borders to leave. The man sucked on a sugar cube while he held a cigarette between his fingers. The waiter came and laid the bill on the table, at the same time taking the tray of sugar cubes.
Hill paid the bill and rose from his chair as the woman quickly sat in Borders's empty chair. As they made their way to the sidewalk, the man began to cough, first easy, and then violently. He tried to rise from the table, but instead succeeded in pushing it over, scattering the table's dishes. A nearby cat scurried to the side of a planter, and then looked back. Foam seeped from the man's mouth, and his eyes became red with panic. The woman screamed - her hands clutched to her face. The waiter and owner rushed to the table. The waiter looked up at Borders and each man knew.
"Let's get out of here before the police arrive," said Hill. "No use getting involved."
They walked back to the Grand Market, to the sound of sirens in the background. They hurried to their group they knew would be assembling out front. Borders thought over the incident, having no doubt the sugar caused it, and that they were the targets. When they again attached themselves to the group, they saw Panama standing on the fringe. He made no reaction when he saw them. There was just a blank stare. Borders wondered what was rolling through his mind.
As they all stood and waited, they were approached by sellers and were soon surrounded. These were sellers who were unable to obtain a stall in the Grand Market and left to their own devices set up outside the gate. Their selling technique seemed to be every man for himself as they shoved items into startled faces with prices yelled out by one person or another. The guide argued with the ring of sellers, but no sooner had he pushed one away, another would take the spot. Pushing and shoving continued as the guide tried to get his troop back on the bus. Some sellers dropped back, as they came closer to the bus, heading back to fresh targets. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the group settled into their seats, and the doors closed. As they started to pull away, one woman yelled.
"Stop the bus. My wallet is missing. Someone stole my wallet."
Everyone heard the complaint, but they all realized it was too late to find the wallet. The bus stopped, opened the door, and the woman with a few friends ran back towards the market. The tour guide tried to stop them, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Thirty minutes later, the woman returned, waving the wallet in her hand.
"I found it in a trash can," she said. "I had only a few euros in it. I'm glad I left the other wallet with my credit cards back on the boat."
Everyone agreed it was a lesson well learned. As they sped down the highway, someone asked the guide where they were going.
"We still have to go to a rug factory," he told them.
Some protested that there wasn't time.
"If we turn around right now, we have just enough time to get back to the boat."
"No, no," he said. We have to go to the rug factory – it's part of our tour."
Now everyone protested, afraid that they wouldn't get back to the ship on time, and it would sail without them. After continual protests, the guide finally relented - signs of fear visible on his face. The bus pulled over to the curb, and then swung out, turning around in the middle of the road. It headed back to the boat. The guide then used his cell to make a call, reporting his intentions back to his office.
"What is the matter with him?" asked Hill. "Does his uncle own the rug factory?"
"Maybe," answered Borders, "but it's the law in Turkey that every tour group has to visit a factory, be it a rug, coat or any other fabricated item. He broke the law by not going to the factory, and the penalty is severe."
Hill just shook his head.
A half hour later, when they were approaching the dockyard, they noticed a large number of people milling about partially blocking the bus. As the troop left the bus, heading towards the gate, a rock, flying through the air, hit one man in the side of the face.
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...