The green patina copper door atop the cathedral roof flew from its hinges, as Arkansas Jade hurled her five-foot ten-inch frame through its threshold. The interior-Alaska-born huntress was evading the machine-gun fire zinging and twanging around her ankles. They were coming up the stairs fast, one flight below.
Arkansas Jade aka “Lithium” flung her body off the church roof into the air hoping that the Sikorsky S92 rescue helicopter she had summoned two hours earlier was there. She thought she had heard its whirring blades; however, machine-gun fire was all that her adrenaline insisted on bringing to her attention.
“O well, here goes nothing,” she said, whispering a short prayer as well, just in case. As if by magic, the rescue helicopter appeared from behind the towering church steeple and hovered; it dropped a rope.
Already in mid-air, Lithium reached out and grabbed the rope tightly—a maneuver she had rehearsed many times. She hugged the rope and hung on. Almost instantly, the helicopter swung around away from the Church steeple and rose high in the sky. Swinging from the rope, like an angel on a high-wire, Lithium watched Vatican City’s silhouette wane as it rested upon the Holy See.
As the Sikorsky S92 rescue helicopter dropped Lithium off on the secret makeshift helipad in the Tuscany woods, a booming voice in her communication earpiece quizzed eagerly,
“Did you get it!”
“I am well and alive thanks, boss.”
“Hmph, I will take that as a yes. Well, get on with it then. On to phase two. And, try not to die. I would hate the inconvenience of it all!”
“Love you too, Goliath. And, thanks for sending the rescue helicopter. I was not sure you had received my signal.”
Not one for too much emotional sugar with his words, Goliath mumbled back in her earpiece, “‘Yeah__ Check in when you are settled. ‘Bye.”
Lithium took the specially outfitted backpack, Joseph Yafo, aka “Goliath,” former Mossad covert operations turned “Security Consultant,” had arranged for the helicopter pilot to give to her. Then she headed out on foot, cloaked by the centuries-old countryside which chaliced Tuscany’s sprawling vineyards.
Hours later, having waved goodbye to the delightful elderly gentleman who picked her up hitchhiking, and drove her all the way into Florence in his 1964 Aston Martin DB5, Lithium ambled through Florence’s Via de’ Tornabuoni.
Goliath had arranged for a safe house in town. It hid her “supplies” and her modified (armored) Land Rover. Taking up a perch three rooftops away, she waited and watched.
As was her custom, she surveilled cautiously any prospective lodging no matter how “safe” with her scope, for several hours before moving in.
As dawn broke, the quiet became cluttered with too much silence. The dogs that had barked for hours suddenly stopped. The fresh Italian air held its breath. And, out of seeming nothingness, a crow appeared overhead and vanished moments later into the distance.
Just then, the safe house exploded. The entire house went up in a loud whoosh. The flames gorged themselves on oxygen; its embers popped like firecrackers. From her crouched position three rooftops away, the explosion’s crescendo tumbled to her ears like a truck emptying its load all at once, on a hillside.
Proceeding from her rooftop perch down to street-level near a bus stop, Lithium tapped her communication earpiece. Goliath answered, “Go ahead.”
Lithium spoke, “They know… I am going dark on this one.”
Showing genuine alarm for the first time in the ten years the pair had worked together, Goliath responded,
“Understood. But, find someone you trust to watch your six. This is a two-person operation, kiddo.”
“Will do. I will contact you when it is done.”
“Good luck, and God’s speed.”
Then, Lithium removed her GPS-enabled earpiece and pressed it into the tire of a nearby orange ATAF (Autolinee Toscane) city bus negotiating its early morning route, as emergency vehicles barrelled through a red light heading for the blaze at the safe house.
Florence’s morning sunshine peeked over its walls and city streets. Its pillars and foundations—once cornerstones of an ancient empire, stood guarding the past as the city rose to a new day. And, today was all the time Lithium had on this one, before it might be too late.
Unfortunately today, she had apparently lost the gold in her arsenal, the one substance that could not be separated from her success—the element of surprise.
They knew she had arrived.
***To be continued next Sunday***