It was not the earth tilting on its axis as some people imagined. The ship had risen on the crest of a giant wave that had seemed to come from nowhere. It was unexpected and caught passengers off guard. A list to one side sent food and dishes to the floor. The bread waiter was no longer fighting the bull – he was trying to stay on his feet. Bits of bread, resembling marshmallows flew through the air. Wine glasses, top heavy, tipped, turning parts of the table cloths a dark red. A skirt split, a victim of balance, its sound odd among the screams that echoed in the room.
On the promenade, a jogger stumbled, her right cheek scraping along the grain of the wood. She let out a scream, as a splinter found a resting place. Seniors on their daily walk, grabbed hold of anything available, to keep from falling or being tossed overboard. A man stood near a life raft, the first in the queue. Below deck, there were muffled screams, as luggage took on a life of its own. T.V.'s dropped from overhead shelves to fall on soft beds or hard floors. Borders and Hill held on to their table while around them was surprised questions. The tables and chairs attempted to move, sliding a few inches. Dishes rattled, falling to the deck.
The wave passed under the ship and then the passengers experienced the downside of a Ferris wheel. As soon as it had started, it stopped, and the ship bobbed in the water.
"What was that?" asked a bewildered Hill.
"That my friend was a tsunami," answered Borders. "There must have been an earthquake nearby. We were lucky - it could have capsized the ship."
Conversations buzzed, as dishes and food replaced the former meal, now covering the floor. The bread waiter returned with a new tray of bread, his dance with the bulls no longer evident. The waitress had changed her skirt, the latter as tight as the former. The new table topic surpassed criticisms of the menu or the guests that sat at the next table – even the memory of the terrorist attack on the day before, had somehow slid to the background. For some, it was a monster dredged up from their imagination, for others, it was a new entry in their journal.
The next day was Venice, the last stop on the cruise. So far, nothing had happened. There was no terrorist threat, no armed invaders, and no bombs secretly carried and hidden from view came to light. The man in the Panama hat seemed to have disappeared. No one saw him since Istanbul. They were sure he had returned to the ship. There was no sight of him at any of the ship venues, the dining rooms or buffet. Maybe he took his meals in his room. Perhaps he had a reason to stay hidden, like making plans or preparing bombs.
On this second last day, everyone had to pick up their passports. Venice required all visitors to carry their passports. Perhaps, because any that drown in the canals would need identification. A small number of passengers would leave the ship today while most used it as a hotel room for one more night. At this port, there was no disembarking from the fourth deck. A large gangway with a glassed-in elevator glided up to the ship, its passage slow as it slid along rails, blackened with grease. The elevator held about twelve people of normal size.
Borders wondered about the extravagance of an elevator since the level of the deck was no different than any other city. It had to be a security measure. The two exits at dock level remained shut. The only entrance was through the elevator, making it difficult for any terrorist to gain entry. Tourism was the lifeblood of Venice, and any attack would be devastating. The operation of the elevator would have been taken into consideration. It was a glass enclosure, visible from the ship, open to any marksman, especially the two visible on the deck. They walked back and forth dressed in SWAT gear, their weapons pointed down, ready to emit a volley at a seconds notice. Their sunglasses did not betray their eyes.
A shouting match at the head of the line grabbed their attention. A man, not carrying his passport, was engaged in a futile argument with the security detail. He saw no validity in carrying his passport if he planned to return to the ship. Unable to exit the ship, he stomped off, most likely to pick up his passport. With a slow moving elevator, that held only twelve passengers, at best - disembarkation was slow.
Venice was a maze of ninety miles of alleys, allowing only foot traffic. The brick walls were dark, some not tasting sunlight for centuries. Their width allowed people to walk in single file in opposite direction. With a number of cruise ships docked, the press of people was elbow to elbow, with sightseeing only possible to those who were tall enough to look over someone's head. As Borders and Hill walked about, they wandered into an alley void of traffic. The sun must have been dipping on the horizon as the alley darkened. It was time to return to the ship.
The alley ended at a canal where there seemed to be no exit. On the left and right, brick walls extended to the water's edge. Gondolas on the far side of the canal offered no help. The only exit was to return the way they had come. Not anxious to return down the now black alley, they searched for any possible exit, no matter how small. But, there was no passing the rotting brick walls.
Two men emerged from the dark alley, giving Borders and Hill a quick glance, and then seeming to ignore them. Still, the hairs on the back of Borders's neck stood on end. A few minutes later, a gondola pulled out from the other side. Borders assumed it had been waiting for more passengers to arrive. Paying the fee of two euros, which was double the price the locals paid - they stepped into the craft and were told to sit in the center to keep it stable. The two strangers stepped in behind them.
The gondolier sank his pole into the silted water and pushed the pole backwards, edging the boat forward. Gasoline spills reflected from the water in a rainbow of colors. The canal was quiet, the only sound being the lapping of water against the sides of the boat. The gondolier didn't sing any love songs. At a distance, they heard the sound of a motorboat, getting louder as it neared. Borders and Hill grabbed the sides of the boat, expecting the worse. Borders looked behind to see if the other two men had taken precautions. Both men were standing and reaching into shoulder holsters that had been up to now, hidden.
At that moment, the speedboat raced by, leaving a giant wave in its wake. The gondola began to tip to its side. The two men, unprepared, began to lean outward. Borders lashed out, kicking one of the legs closest to him, helping him fall into the canal. As he began to fall, he reached out, grabbing his partner and pulling him into the water. On the waves, the boat rocked back and forth. The gondolier, seeing the men fall overboard - followed them into the water. Luckily the pole fell into the boat. The three men swam back to the dock they had just departed. Hill grabbed the pole, stuck it in the mud, and tried his best to get them to the other side. When they finally reached the dock, they looked over at the other dock, but the three men had disappeared. Borders and Hill stumbled around for another hour before finally finding their way back to the ship.
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...