Chapter 18

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"Run, run to the ship," yelled the guide, standing on the bottom step of the bus, while the door swung shut to protect him. Stones peppered the bus as it pulled away, and black smoke poured out furnishing a transparent wall that provided no protection. Dent marks appeared on the silver and blue finish while spider marks moved along fractured glass. The bus pushed its way through the crowd and out the front gate, glad to be free of the chaos, soon out of sight and forgotten.

The mob now turned its attention to the screaming tourists who ran in assorted fashions to reach the ship. Insults and any loose object available rained down on them. Plastic water bottles and aluminum beverage cans bounce off the pavement, presenting obstacles to feet. A few ill-aimed rocks splashed into the water while others found more tender landing spots. Love, thy neighbor, was cast aside as it was everyone for themselves. An old man with dementia, his eyes wide, his mouth open, ran like a stickman, his legs forgetting they had joints. An old lady fell, her hands spread on the pavement, where one soon became the victim of another's man's shoe. The yells of the attackers blotted out the screams of fear from tourists who now believed they faced Armageddon.

Onward they raced, followed by excited yells, "thieves, criminals," while missiles continued to rain down on them. Everyone ran or limped as best they could for the ship. As they neared, they saw ship security run down the gangway waving broom handles. The front of the group stopped, and those behind ran into them, knocking most of them to the ground. Those that could raise their arms to ward off the blows they expected from the ships security.

"Onto the ship," yelled the security chief, as the broom handles raced past the terrified tourists. Panama sprinted up the gangway but was forced to stop when a woman fell in front of him. With his usual scowl, he cleared his path by helping the woman rise – and then ran in front of her.

From the decks above, some tourists hung over the railings, yelling support while others treated it as a substitute for a football game. Lady Brenda and Jeopardy stopped to help fallen tourists, while Borders and Hill stayed at the back of the group, ready to defend against the mob. The scene to mimic history, Roman soldiers battling barbarians. Broom handles swung like old fashioned swords, sending attackers to the ground or over the edge of the dock. The small Gurkhas backed onto the gangway, with the mob trying to follow. When the security team was clear of the dock, the gangway began to rise. The security team raced up the tilting gangway - some falling into the open door of the ship.

Persistent rioters jumped for the edge of the gangway, hanging on while it rose in the air. One by one, they let go, falling into the water. Others hung on until the last minute, but fearing crushed fingers, let go and fell into the sea. Stones, bricks, and plastic bottles bounced off the side of the ship. At a distance, sirens could be heard, announcing the arrival of riot police. The rioters, trapped against the sea, turned their attention to the police. Lacking further missiles to toss, some grabbed fistfuls of soil from the flower pots that decorated the dock, while others attacked with their fists. They were no match for batons and brutality. Fighting a losing battle, they tried to escape. Bloodied heads ran through the police cordon while competent swimmers jumped into the sea. With the area cleared, the ropes untied, the ship slipped from port.

Aboard, there was a mass sigh of relief. With the weight removed, the ship seemed to rise in the water. In a matter minutes, the infirmary as well as the one doctor on board became overwhelmed with the injured and the fearful. A number of medical professionals among the tourists stepped forward with a helping hand. Head wounds were treated first, anxiety last. Although a majority sought medical aid, a few stumbled their way back to their cabins, preferring to tend to themselves.

The gossip mills were in full swing, rumors and exaggerations spreading like fleas. Some thought it was a terrorist attack while others became convinced a war had started, and we now stared from the wrong side of the fence. Eventually, the proper reason reared its head as friends from other tour groups explained about the "visit a factory law," resulting in shocked and indigent tourists. All of this abuse was for not looking at a rug, where purchases would be few if any. Vows of never to return were voiced loudly - although most had no intention of ever returning. This incident would fill a page in their otherwise drab journal. Borders had lost sight of Panama during the melee but assumed he made it aboard ship. He seemed to be a man who could look after his interests.

For a late meal, Borders and Hill chose the dining room instead of the buffet. Here, the menu changed daily, and there was always wine and beer available. There would be no bumping elbows and a mad dash to find a seat. The dining room was quiet as a waitress escorted them to a table for two near a window. Borders looked out the window and in his mind's eye saw a Roman galleon struggling through the whitecaps, as the oars dipped in unison.

A waiter laid white napkins on their laps and set a basket of five bread slices on the table. The line of tables along the windows each had two chairs, and as patrons arrived, they were seated at the next empty table. Groups of three or more were seated further from the window. The proximity of the tables kept pockets free of foreign hands. Wallets were safe, but not conversation.

The dining room spread out from one side of the ship to the other. The tables covered in white linen were like obstacles, requiring side steps, as if one was performing a waltz. The tummy's and bums of bouncy waitresses, dressed in black slacks, white shirts and black bowties, rubbed against chairs. Trays, balanced on five fingers, wound through the air, the plates moving to the rhythm of the ship.

When all the tables for two became occupied, any arriving couples were seated at the next row of tables, even if there were four chairs. An elderly couple seated across from Borders and Hill spoke quietly, although not in a whisper, yet enough so that those close by could hear without difficulty. The couple seemed to be acquaintances rather than husband and wife.

"On our tour today, we went to a rug factory," said the woman. "Did you go?"

"No," he answered. "I didn't go on a tour today - I went downtown by myself. I was looking for a rug. One of my neighbors back in New Mexico has this beautiful blue and white rug - it would be perfect for my living room."

"You should have come to the factory with us," she said.

"No, I didn't want to go to a rug factory. Those places are just tourist traps where they just double the price. I knew I could do better on my own. I found this little shop on a side street, and they had just what I was looking for."

"Did you buy it?" she asked.

"Yes," he said. "It cost fifteen thousand dollars, and I had enough cash on me, but I didn't have enough for the shipping. The man told me not to worry, the shipping was free, so I paid for the carpet and in six weeks it should arrive in New Mexico."

The woman was silent for a while, and then said, "You must phone me when it arrives so I can drive over to see it."

Hill looked at Borders and raised an eyebrow. In the back of his mind, he wished he too could get a phone call and hear about the arrival of this magic carpet.


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