A milk mustache. Borders and Hill stared at the man stepping from the now empty elevator, his huge smile topped by a white smear beneath his nose. The elevator remained open as if it wanted a last look at this passing spectacle. It was obvious the man was just returning from the buffet and a milkshake treat. Turning away from them, he wandered off, unaware of his unintended makeup. Borders wondered if anyone would bring his latest fashion to his attention, or let him wander on his way, where he would observe that everyone passing gave him a smile. Maybe he had concocted this solitary entertainment, deliberately, just to gauge reactions. He disappeared around a corner, bringing joy to the world.
Today was the day after Athens, a day after the carnage, a day at sea, a day of rest from tour guides and bus rides. Sometimes these days were needed to recharge one's batteries, as well as those from the cameras. It was also a time to enjoy the multi-item ship menu, to try the buffet. They had forgotten that a day at sea meant everyone would be having lunch, and at the same time. Passengers seemed to race past the buffet, gently pushing and shoving, worming their way towards food layouts filling their plates as if they thought the ship would run out of food.
Borders and Hill moved their way through the crowd, deflecting elbows, and squeezing in towards food trays. On this cruise, some put their manners aside as if they ever had any. Borders watched a man elbow his way to a fish platter, scooping up all the shrimp to add to his heaping plate. Borders opted for goat meat, bringing back memories of an assignment to Morocco. This meal cooked in a Caribbean style was a goat delicacy – as opposed to stringy meat cooked over an open fire and seasoned with sand.
Between elbows and rear ends, Borders lost sight of Hill, and now with a full plate, went in search of a free table. The turnover at the tables seemed to be quick. Perhaps due in part to those searching for a table. They stared at those seated, causing a wave of guilt to pass over some, forcing them to rush through their meals as if they had someplace important to go. 'Where would they rush to, on a day at sea?' Borders grabbed an empty table for two near the window, their favorite spot. He remained standing, searching for Hill, and soon caught sight of him, his eyes wandering over the seating area, in his search for a table. A wave got his attention, and soon they were seated near the expanse of sea and sunshine, trying to pay scant attention to those around them.
The buffet did not have the relaxed atmosphere of the dining room. It was hustle and bustle as bus boys and girls rushed about clearing tables that were soon snapped up by the watching lunch crowd. Female officers in what seemed like painted on skirts and shirts walked about the tables while some men watched for popped buttons.
Even though the two men tried to relax with their meal, they still finished it a pace ahead of what it would have taken them if they had made use of the dining room. When they finished, they left the buffet, squeezing past women busy filling water bottles from the taps. Borders wondered why, since water was readily available anywhere on the ship, and no one would be leaving the ship today, not at mid sea. At the door, the girl was busy spraying hands with disinfectant and cheerful verses of "Happy, happy, washee, washee."
Borders and Hill made their way to the elevator, and immediately the door opened. A couple in their mid-twenties stepped out, each wrapped in a wet towel. They gave the impression that they had just stepped out of the shower. They laughed and giggled as they seemed to be making their way towards the buffet. It seemed they existed in their invisible bubble, immune to the cares and stares of others. The floor of the elevator was wet, soaked as any shower. Borders looked up and checked for a shower head.
The two men now parted ways for a time. With no walking tour, Hill went for a walk on deck. The route around the ship was ½ km. It would take ten trips to reach his three miles. Borders decided to catch up on his reading and went in search of the reading room. He found it next to the enclosed smoking room – which may not have been the best location. Entering the reading room, he could smell the smoke that had invaded from next door.
The room had about a dozen easy chairs, half of which were occupied by seniors of all shapes. Two book racks clung to opposite walls. One boasted hardcovers while the other settled on paperbacks. Borders scanned the paperbacks, finally settling on a 'Clive Cussler.' He sat in a corner chair where he could keep his eye on the door. He wasn't about to make a 'Wild Bill Hickok' mistake. A table, cluttered with pamphlets and discarded newspaper pages, separated him from the next empty chair.
A man entered the room, the cluttered table next to Borders, a magnet for his eyes. He stared at the disarray and then at Borders, the obvious culprit, now guilty by location. The man walked to a chair as far as possible from Borders as if untidiness was a transmitted disease. Every few minutes, the man would lift his eyes and stare at him, possibly thinking that the stares would embarrass him to tidy up the table.
Border's attention was averted from the ongoing stares to the opening door as Jeopardy entered the room. Her eyes betrayed her as he looked into them and saw a hint of malice. She averted her eyes, and Borders gave no sign of recognition as she moved past him to the other side of the room, taking a seat next to the man with the stare. They did not appear to know each other. Borders considered the man's glares a form of harassment, and this coupled with Jeopardy's possible evil intent, prompted him to rise and depart the room, leaving the table of disarray to someone else. He could smell an elevated aroma of smoke from the room next door, and he wondered if his senses became heightened by the recent acts of contention.
The sounds of an auction grabbed his attention, as he walked down a nearby passageway. Poking his head into an open doorway, he saw the activity of an art auction. The room was small, holding no more than twenty passengers, raising their hands to exorbitant bids for amateur art. Borders wondered what they did with their painting if they won a bid. One look was enough, and he wandered onto the open deck.
It was time for a walk, although at a slower pace and less distance than Hill, who was probably still doing his rounds. A puff of wind brushed his face as a female jogger scampered by, in plain view of the sign that read, 'No Jogging.' A tap on the shoulder made him turn to encounter an angry face.
"No one is supposed to jog," said a woman, her temper reflected in her cheeks. "Some people have no manners."
"Yes," agreed Borders. "She could run into someone and knock them down, possibly knock them overboard."
The woman agreed and walked off still grumbling, markedly satisfied that someone else agreed with her. Borders walked to the railing and stared out to sea, the top of a container ship, miles away catching his attention for a few minutes. He looked back to the woman, making sure she was far enough away so that he would not catch up with her when he resumed his walk.
The boards of the deck stretched out before him, no longer glossy hardwood, but fatigued wood, their finish removed, leaving streaks on dead planks, grey and sad. Cracks invited sea water to fill them, further eating into their existence. Further ahead, the woman was no longer in sight - her space now occupied by a man walking past a lifeboat station. Every so often he seemed to stop and look up at the boats as if judging their seaworthiness, or their capacity to carry all of the passengers and crew. As Borders passed him, he noticed the open mouth with clenched teeth, as he stared at the bottom of the lifeboat. At the front of the ship, the walking area was enclosed, with only enough room for two people to pass. Borders felt a nudge as the jogger sped past. The woman would have been furious.
Eventually Borders was back at his starting point, just in time for lunch. He found Hill back at the cabin, and the two made their way to the dining room. Seated at a window table, they looked over the rest of the room. Diners sat at window tables while the center of the room was void of guests. A waiter danced by, his fingers balancing a large tray of bread, his hips swinging from side to side, reminiscent of a bull fighter. 'He did look Spanish.'
Borders settled on noodle soup and a club sandwich. The soup was a surprise with noodles one-foot long. 'Do they double for spaghetti?' The club sandwich was cut in four and spread around the outside of the plate while a bag of chips emptied into the center. He picked up a chip, its crunch reminding him of dinosaurs eating pebbles to grind their food. He glanced out to sea and noticed the container ship higher in the water, on the horizon that seemed to have risen.
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...