The click of the Walther PPK/S’ safety release was quite distinct. Wasting no time to look back for answers—Lithium received from that sound the one reply which mattered to her existence. The person following her was an assassin keen to collect the quarter-a-million-dollar bounty on her head.
She ran as fast as her feet could carry her on Siena’s pristine but uneven alleyway. Vigorously, she dug her heels into the hard blue-gray stone slabs as she ran towards what looked like a Farmacia near the middle of the alley.
Lithium did not hear the shot as it sped from the assassin’s gun, but she began to crouch as she ran in a zigzag fashion in anticipation of its unwelcomed delivery.
Moreover, she knew that other shots would follow. The second shot came even closer. It almost grazed her right shoulder as it twanged and whiz-banged in dust spewing rebellion, on the 14th-century sienna-brown stone wall to her right.
Unexpectedly—the assassin was gaining on her.
Lithium ran to the Farmacia’s threshold. She flung her entire body on the door and shook the handle. It was locked!
A small sign in Italian and in English on the door read: “Closed for lunch, back in one hour. “
Lithium was about to leave and run into the crowd several perilous meters away when she noticed something peculiar about the Farmacia sign above the doorway.
Surprisingly, only three letters in the sign were lit as follows: Farmacia. Moreover, those three highlighted letters flashed repeatedly in a precise order…the “M” first, then the “R” and then the “A”.
Lithium banged her fist even more fiercely on the Farmacia’s door. She rang the bell which thankfully, was some sort of intercom.
Meanwhile, the assassin was emboldened now. He felt he had her. He slowed down to a swagger. He strode with precise steps in very expensive shoes. His tailored suit spoke of an invisible made-to-fit body armor underneath. He removed his white Panama hat in one move.
The assassin’s sepulcher-like eyes gazed, it seemed, into his pending victim’s soul without remorse. His was a face that had seen death too many times without the filter of a conscience. His merciless demeanor was that of one who had left compassion somewhere along humanity’s highway in an ash heap, long ago.
He shielded his gun with his Panama hat. Then he lifted his arm to the level of her head and aimed at Lithium point black.
Just as the assassin steadied his aim—a young man, perhaps no more than thirteen years old suddenly appeared inside the Farmacia. He walked to the door with his sandwich in hand and his mouth full. Lithium yelled pressing the intercom button. “I have an appointment with Mr. A. Please, hurry!”
The young man threw his sandwich to the ground, unlocked the door. He pulled Lithium, who was already on the threshold pressed up tightly against the door, inside.
Alarmingly, the Farmacia door was considerably heavier than it first appeared. It swung out on its hinges. Some kind of invisible counterweight swung the door closed—on its own! And, with engineering precision, the door latched itself with a thunderous clack.
Lithium with her back to the door, shielding the young man with her body, shouted, “Get down he has a gun. Get down!”
The assassin did not waver, as she suspected he would not. He lunged repeatedly at the locked door using his left shoulder as a battering ram.
While Lithium shielded the young man with her body, she had noticed that he made several attempts to speak unsuccessfully.
Finally, the young man found his voice. He whispered, “It’s bulletproof—the door is bulletproof, Signorina. While he was speaking, he tugged her arm, “Let me take you below…He is waiting for you!”
In great haste, Lithium followed the young man through a small passageway hidden behind a painted mural of the Palio of Siena (horse race). The assassin fired two more shots at the unrelenting Farmacia door and fled.
Someone must have seen the commotion because it was no more than five minutes later when they heard sirens wailing in the distance as the two descended further into Siena’s catacombs.
Lithium followed the young man for approximately twenty minutes down a remarkably precipitous stone staircase into the deep underbelly of Siena’s medieval history. The young man stopped at what appeared to be an underground cave set up like a Church.
There, the young man pointed in the direction of the Church; then, he ran out of sight.
Lithium sat on the ancient handmade wooden pew catching her breath. Considerable dust in the air rose like incense. The plumes of dust clogged her throat. She coughed to clear her breathing.
Otherwise unharmed, she stood to assess her surroundings. She was in a hand-hewn dug-out cave. The thousands of chisel marks on the cave walls spoke volumes of the immense human effort which had crafted this holy place centuries ago.
She thought to herself, “This hollowed-out stone chalice must have collected centuries of prayers.”
Unexpectedly, either because of her recent ordeal or, because of the holiness that her faith believed this place represented, inexplicably—she wept.
Wiping her tears, Lithium thought to herself, “This setting was exactly Mr. A’s style. He was fond of selecting places of sanctuary for his “business” meetings. Mr. A. honored the centuries-old assassin’s creed: no guns, no knives, no killing in places of worship.
Sensing that Mr. A. was watching her in the sacred silence that wombed the ancient underground church, Lithium spoke first:
“Hello old friend, thank you for the bulletproof door upstairs.”
Mr. A., still in the shadows replied, “I see you had some unwanted company. I was just about to cancel your arrangements when you spoke on the intercom. You always have impeccable timing, Huntress Lithium.”
“On a more important note—your arrangements to get back home Stateside are there on the second pew by the door. Hope you’re not afraid of heights, my friend. Safe travels.”
Mr. A. continued,
“You specified a “special delivery” to your colleague, Goliath. I take it that item is in your backpack? Please leave it on the pew. It is secured and clean of course?”
“Yes, it is clean. No transmissions can get in or out to track its whereabouts. The device is in a flexible Faraday cage inside the backpack,” Lithium replied.
“Excellent! I will have it delivered, promptly.”
“Thanks. I will leave your usual fee on the pew here. We agreed to $75k—correct? And, I have added a bit extra for the bother just now upstairs. Was that young man your son?”
“No, my grandson. He wants to be a policeman. The irony of that is not lost on me—me an ex-spy and former sniper, with a grandson who will be a police officer. Must be good karma coming back around” —chuckled Mr. A., still hidden in the shadows.
Lithium retrieved the package with her travel arrangements from the pew. In exchange, she deposited Mr. A’s fee from the stash in her backpack. She removed the one remaining prepaid card, and the currency therein; then she left the backpack in Mr. A’s care.
“For safety, you may wish to leave by this door,” Mr. A. instructed.
Moments later, a door of solid stone swung and creaked open eerily—Addams Family style.
Following the light through the door, Lithium emerged at the back exit to Villa di STR hotel.
With precision driving, a blue Fiat Panda drove up alongside her. The driver slowed. He rolled down his window,
“Mr. A. sent me. Please get in, Signorina. Hurry!”
Quickly, Lithium alighted into the back passenger seat—the first phase of her exit strategy had begun.
*** To be continued in the Finale Next Sunday***