I cover my mouth with my hand, masking a yawn as I once again scan the Piazza San Pietro – Saint Peter’s Square – in the Vatican City. The pope will be making an appearance today, but we have it on good authority and solid intel that a suicide bomber is somewhere in the crowd, hoping to become a martyr to his Muslim ideals while killing Christians in their most holy place – and hopefully taking the pope with him in an ultimate bid to impress his god.
It’s enough to make anyone eschew religion, I think blandly as I scan again, shifting slightly so my sidearm rests more comfortably against my shoulder. There are dozens of agents in the square, all disguised as religious pilgrims, Vatican workers, or just typical tourists with their cameras and guidebooks. We blend so well, I’m not even sure who’s who, especially the agents I haven’t worked with before from CIA or Mossad.
I’m wearing “tourist gear” – jeans, tee shirt, sneakers, and I periodically thumb through a guidebook on the Vatican, as though I’m trying to decide what to see next, or if it’s time for a lazy lunch with a sexy Italian man at some nearby café.
No one pays attention to me at all, all of them too focused on their own touristy activities.
An accented voice crackles in my ear – Simon, one of the Mossad agents, asking for an update. Reports trickle in of nothing seen, nothing heard, but we know the bomber is here - somewhere. With the pope’s appearance, it’s too sweet an opportunity for a martyr to miss.
We know that.
My eyes scan again, and then snap back towards one of the columns near Saint Peter’s Basilica, where I detected the flicker of a lighter, then the glowing red tip of a cigarette, as a man with dark hair and dark eyes takes a leisurely, contented drag on the end. His clothes are nondescript, but for the loose windbreaker he wears. His features are nondescript, but for the closely trimmed beard and piercing eyes.
Our intel indicates a man of average build, average weight, average appearance, but with a fiendish cigarette habit.
I push away from the column, then begin a walk towards him, fumbling with my guidebook as though I’ve just read something fascinating about the basilica and want a closer look, just like any other bumbling tourist. I quickly cross the square, and move closer, all the while reporting my suspicion to Shane, Simon and all the other agents on the same communications channel. Three of them scramble their positions and begin to move closer to my identified man.
I’m given orders by Shane to make contact with him, to determine if he is truly a threat, and at my signal, he will be “detained” by agents who are more officially dressed if it appears he is our bomber.
I flip a page in my guidebook again, head bent as I mumble some of the passages to myself, coming ever closer to my target. I close the distance between us, and then “accidentally” bump into him, dropping my guidebook and my purse on the ground at his feet.
“Oh my god,” I screech, sounding like an embarrassed girl. “I’m, like, so sorry!”
He curses in Arabic – a phrase I’ve been known to use from time to time myself – and then realizes his linguistic mistake in this Christian place, and switches easily to slightly accented English. “Do not trouble yourself,” he says, bending down to pick up my guidebook and hand it to me. “Here.”
I push my thick glasses – another cover prop – up my nose and peer at him, our noses nearly touching as we both squat to retrieve my items. I lean forward and squeeze his arm in a friendly manner, and he recoils, violently.
Just as I suspected. This man is a devout Muslim, one who is forbidden from touching a woman that he is not related to, and particularly from touching an infidel woman. “Thanks for helping me,” I say, giving his arm another squeeze. “You are, like, totally nice.”
He stands quickly, but not before I catch a glimpse inside his windbreaker – and see not only a small handgun, but a mess of wiring leading from a pocket to some device at the small of his back.
Gotcha, I think to myself, straightening up and slinging my purse back on my shoulder casually.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I ask, gesturing to the square and basilica behind me. “I could spend all day here, just looking at it all.”
“It’s… very nice,” he says stiffly, and I give him a wide smile. “But I think you should return to Rome now – time for lunch at a nice café, no?”
I give a small start – this man, who is about to sacrifice his very life for Allah, is trying to get me to leave the square before I’m killed – me, an infidel woman.
I truly, truly, will never understand people, or religious fanaticism, or how people can have so many emotions warring inside them at any given moment.
But then again, I’m not paid to understand these things – only to stop them.
“Yeah,” I say easily. “I am pretty hungry. Thanks again. Enjoy the view,” I say, backing away and then whirling on my heel, making for a nearby gate.
I activate my comm. unit and then utter only three words as I quickly walk away, my nose shoved back in my guidebook. “It’s him. Go.”
I duck around another column, and then peek around to see three men walk up and surround our bomber, strong arming him away from the square, his arms clearly kept away from his weaponry, and a hand put over his mouth as he begins to yell about the glory of Allah.
I breathe a sigh of relief – we found him, we stopped him, and now we can go home with the satisfaction of a job well done.
All in a day’s work, I guess.
I yawn again as I straighten my purse and begin to walk swiftly towards the van that will take us to the airport and back home.
But first, I have to try and talk the driver into making one teeny tiny pit stop – at the tackiest tourist gift shop I can find along the way.
I have a Michelangelo to purchase for my boyfriend.
Did I really just think that?
Is Connor my boyfriend?
Picturing him asleep in my bed, tangled in my sheets, his arms wrapped around me, I smile and think, yeah, he is.
I lean my head back against the van’s headrest and smile as we pull away from the square.