Men swore - women groaned, and suitcase wheels bumped their way up and over the bridge. Although wide, the bridge seemed insufficient for the number of passengers that now tried to cross. When they left the ship, they veered left and right, around corners, through gates, past storage sites, finally arriving at this bridge. It acted as a funnel, drawing them to that part of the city where civilization beckoned. They struggled with the suitcases - people accustomed to others carrying their luggage. After ten steps up the bridge, some sat and rested on the steps, unable to move any further. There was no one there to help these part time refugees. No little, cloned men, ready to do their bidding. Not when there was work involved.
Borders and Hill lifted their suitcases and carried them up and over the bridge, making their way around a small, white, short-haired dog. He had a black patch of fur on his face that resembled a maple leaf. He just stood there, his tail waving back and forth, staring at the flow of tourists. Then, seemingly satisfied, he turned and trotted off.
The two men had risen early and on deck before anyone had left the ship. They were on the lookout for Panama, possibly their last chance to see him. Two hours later, their waiting paid off, as he appeared dragging a suitcase, camera straps crisscrossing his bulky frame. Borders and Hill kept him in sight as he struggled up and over the bridge. Their destination was the "People Mover," a monorail shuttle service that carried passengers from the canals to the normal part of the city, to waiting taxis, buses and trains.
The "People Mover" consisted of two cars, holding about twenty people each, when packed. A glassed-in elevator took passengers from street level to the small platform above. The shuttle run took about five minutes, ending with another elevator ride to the street. Panama had taken the elevator and train before the two men had even cleared the street.
Their five minute ride over, they arrived at the other end, finding themselves near a storage area for the train station. Trains, boxcars, wheels, rails and other items pertaining to railway movement surrounded them. Borders and Hill followed the line of people who seemed to know where they were going. Others followed them. Eventually, they stepped into the train station. Out front, they could see lineups of taxis and buses, ready to convey.
Looking around, they hoped against hope, that they would catch sight of Panama. Finally, they glimpsed him standing at a railway ticket window bearing the sign, "Rome." They thanked their lucky stars and rushed to buy their ticket. Finding out there were no more tickets for the 10:30 am train, they settled with an 11:30 am passage. They wondered what ticket Panama had been able to purchase, a question quickly answered as Panama disappeared in the direction of the trains. They would have to wait and hope to find him in Rome.
One hour of apprehension waited for the train, among rushing passengers and loads of luggage – all with wheels – one of the greatest inventions of the 1990's. The waiting area had a minimum of seats, where waiting passengers would eat you alive for a spot. Borders and Hill passed a bench just as a family jumped up to vacate their spot. The men sat down to the glare of others who had been standing for a longer period. There was no code of chivalry where train seats were involved. It was every man or woman for themselves.
Borders watched a tall woman of Aquitaine features walk past. Her thumb and forefinger held a thick Cuban cigar - her movement causing the tip of the cigar to glow. The majority stared. Even rampant women's lib did not condone cigar smoking women. Soon, she and the cigar haze drifted out of sight. Women in black burkas, their round faces encased in black, a nun's habit without a wimple, hurried by, dragging a tagline of children. Nuns are obedient to God - burka women are obedient to their God at home, in his blue jeans and T-shirt.
The hour passed slowly, the seat surrounded by watchers, more like a prison than a place to relax. When they finally stood and grabbed their suitcases, a family of four nearly trampled them to get to the empty spots. Weaving their way out of the building, they followed the group anxiously heading to the train. Boarding car # 4, they stowed their luggage in the baggage area at the back of the car.
The door of the ladies washroom was open a crack, just enough for Lady Brenda and Jeopardy to keep an eye on the two men. The ladies washroom, as a waiting area, was not the best choice, but they wanted to remain close to their quarry and stay out of sight. Body odor, especially from someone else is never a compatible companion. They endured the smell and the stares until they saw the two men rise from the seats, and head to the train.
The two women tagged along at the back of the group. They watched the men disappear into car # 4, and soon they took their seats in car # 6. They knew the men were probably going to Rome, and while they remained on the train, the two women could relax. Jeopardy knew Rome would be the endgame. There, she would confront Borders, and make him pay for stealing her future.
The train pulled away from the station, the drop-down screens displaying the speed as it pushed forward, and in a matter of minutes reached its cruising speed of 150 mph. Some paid no intention to the monitors, while others stared in disbelief, their eyes wide, hands gripping the seat rests - skin stretched over white knuckles. With noiseless wheels, the tracks steady, lacking the right and left tosses so prevalent to trains back home, the passengers relaxed. Comfortable in a box, where the only indication of movement was the blur outside the window, they settled in for the trip to Rome.
The red and grey train zipped through the Italian countryside, under a sky of dark clouds and grey skies. The scenery took on the look of the sky above, grey and morose. Borders looked out the windows, imaging Roman soldiers on their way to battles in Germany and Britain. At a distance, he saw another flash of red and grey hurtling towards them, a similar train on a parallel line. With a whoosh of two seconds, it was out of sight.
Some passengers ate from handbags carrying bread and cheese. Large bottles of 'Coke' nursed dry mouths and not a few drank from bottles of wine. Many read newspapers while others punched their iPhones. It helped pass the time. The train stopped at a station outside Rome. Few disembarked. At the final stop in Rome, many raced for their luggage, trying to escape first, an action prevalent to all modes of transportation. Borders and Hill moved with the crowd, their hand pressed against their shoulder holsters – pickpockets covered the streets in Rome. It would be embarrassing to lose their wallet – more so their weapon.
Borders and Hill dragged their suitcases over the marble floors of Rome's enormous train station. In Rome, most buildings were made using marble, a material found in abundance. It was long-lasting and easy to maintain. It endured long after the builder was dust. Out front, the steps were wide, stretching from column to column. The building looked like it belonged on the grounds of the Vatican rather than as a train station.
In front of the station the square and adjoining streets were a sea of yellow cabs, punctured now and then by dark spots where a bus or car was able to park. Looking down from above, it resembled a field of sunflowers. People pushed and shoved, suitcases jolted each other, as everyone tried to grab a taxi. In this mayhem, Borders was out of his element.
A man approached them by elbowing his way through the crowd, pushing against the grain. He was short and compact, built like a fireplug. His large bushy mustache distracted eyes from looking at his missing hair which gave him a high forehead.
"Chief of Station sent me," he said. "I'm to take you to the safe house."
He then turned and walked away, expecting them to follow. Borders and Hill looked at each other – then Borders nodded, and they followed the stranger. He stopped at a new Mercedes and opened the trunk. The two men tossed in their luggage and then climbed into the car. Borders, in the front seat, watched as the driver set his GPS. His eyebrows knitted. Hill, in the back seat, still struggled with his seat belt and hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary. As if aware of his thoughts, the driver spoke up.
"I'm new here," he said. "I've only been here two weeks. Still don't know my way around the city."
"What was your previous station?" asked Borders.
"Barcelona," he answered.
Borders said nothing.
The GPS helped with the house location, but did nothing to assist the onslaught of traffic. Italian drivers believed their journey was the most important, deserved the freedom of the road and drove accordingly. Borders wondered if there were traffic rules or was it just every man for himself. Their driver acted like one of the locals, weaving in and out of traffic, cutting corners, and with abandon making full use of the horn. He was well taught in Barcelona. It took half an hour of frenzy to reach their destination, which was, as the crow flies, one block from the Vatican.
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...