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Chapter 31

Susan returned to Node 3. Her conversation with Strathmore had made her increasingly anxious about David’s safety. Her imagination was running wild.

“So,” Hale spouted from his terminal. “What did Strathmore want? A romantic evening alone with his head cryptographer?”

Susan ignored the comment and settled in at her terminal. She typed her privacy code and the screen came to life. The tracer program came into view; it still had not returned any information on North Dakota.

Damn, Susan thought. What’s taking so long?

“You seem uptight,” Hale said innocently. “Having trouble with your diagnostic?”

“Nothing serious,” she replied. But Susan wasn’t so sure. The tracer was overdue. She wondered if maybe she’d made a mistake while writing it. She began scanning the long lines of LIMBO programming on her screen, searching for anything that could be holding things up.

Hale observed her smugly. “Hey, I meant to ask you,” he ventured. “What do you make of that unbreakable algorithm Ensei Tankado said he was writing?”

Susan’s stomach did a flip. She looked up. “Unbreakable algorithm?” She caught herself. “Oh, yeah… I think I read something about that.”

“Pretty incredible claim.”

“Yeah,” Susan replied, wondering why Hale had suddenly brought it up. “I don’t buy it, though. Everyone knows an unbreakable algorithm is a mathematical impossibility.”

Hale smiled. “Oh, yeah… the Bergofsky Principle.”

“And common sense,” she snapped.

“Who knows…” Hale sighed dramatically. “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Shakespeare,” Hale offered. “Hamlet.”

“Read a lot while you were in jail?”

Hale chuckled. “Seriously, Susan, did you ever think that maybe it is possible, that maybe Tankado really did write an unbreakable algorithm?”

This conversation was making Susan uneasy. “Well, we couldn’t do it.”

“Maybe Tankado’s better than we are.”

“Maybe.” Susan shrugged, feigning disinterest.

“We corresponded for a while,” Hale offered casually. “Tankado and me. Did you know that?”

Susan looked up, attempting to hide her shock. “Really?”

“Yeah. After I uncovered the Skipjack algorithm, he wrote me-said we were brothers in the global fight for digital privacy.”

Susan could barely contain her disbelief. Hale knows Tankado personally! She did her best to look uninterested.

Hale went on. “He congratulated me for proving that Skipjack had a back door-called it a coup for privacy rights of civilians all over the world. You gotta admit, Susan, the backdoor in Skipjack was an underhanded play. Reading the world’s E-mail? If you ask me, Strathmore deserved to get caught.”

“Greg,” Susan snapped, fighting her anger, “that back door was so the NSA could decode E-mail that threatened this nation’s security.”

“Oh, really?” Hale sighed innocently. “And snooping the average citizen was just a lucky by-product?”

“We don’t snoop average citizens, and you know it. The FBI can tap telephones, but that doesn’t mean they listen to every call that’s ever made.”

“If they had the manpower, they would.”

Susan ignored the remark. “Governments should have the right to gather information that threatens the common good.”

“Jesus Christ”-Hale sighed-“you sound like you’ve been brainwashed by Strathmore. You know damn well the FBI can’t listen in whenever they want-they’ve got to get a warrant. A spiked encryption standard would mean the NSA could listen in to anyone, anytime, anywhere.”

“You’re right-as we should be able to!” Susan’s voice was suddenly harsh. “If you hadn’t uncovered the back door in Skipjack, we’d have access to every code we need to break, instead of just what TRANSLTR can handle.”

“If I hadn’t found the back door,” Hale argued, “someone else would have. I saved your asses by uncovering it when I did. Can you imagine the fallout if Skipjack had been in circulation when the news broke?”

“Either way,” Susan shot back, “now we’ve got a paranoid EFF who think we put back doors in all our algorithms.”

Hale asked smugly, “Well, don’t we?”

Susan eyed him coldly.

“Hey,” he said, backing off, “the point is moot now anyway. You built TRANSLTR. You’ve got your instant information source. You can read what you want, when you want-no questions asked. You win.”

“Don’t you mean we win? Last I heard, you worked for the NSA.”

“Not for long,” Hale chirped.

“Don’t make promises.”

“I’m serious. Someday I’m getting out of here.”

“I’ll be crushed.”

In that moment, Susan found herself wanting to curse Hale for everything that wasn’t going right. She wanted to curse him for Digital Fortress, for her troubles with David, for the fact that she wasn’t in the Smokys-but none of it was his fault. Hale’s only fault was that he was obnoxious. Susan needed to be the bigger person. It was her responsibility as head cryptographer to keep the peace, to educate. Hale was young and naive.

Susan looked over at him. It was frustrating, she thought, that Hale had the talent to be an asset in Crypto, but he still hadn’t grasped the importance of what the NSA did.

“Greg,” Susan said, her voice quiet and controlled, “I’m under a lot of pressure today. I just get upset when you talk about the NSA like we’re some kind of high-tech peeping Tom. This organization was founded for one purpose-to protect the security of this nation. That may involve shaking a few trees and looking for the bad apples from time to time. I think most citizens would gladly sacrifice some privacy to know that the bad guys can’t maneuver unchecked.”

Hale said nothing.

“Sooner or later,” Susan argued, “the people of this nation need to put their trust somewhere. There’s a lot of good out there-but there’s also a lot of bad mixed in. Someone has to have access to all of it and separate the right from wrong. That’s our job. That’s our duty. Whether we like it or not, there is a frail gate separating democracy from anarchy. The NSA guards that gate.”

Hale nodded thoughtfully. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

Susan looked puzzled.

“It’s Latin,” Hale said. “From Satires of Juvenal. It means ‘Who will guard the guards?’ ”

“I don’t get it,” Susan said. ” ‘Who will guard the guards?’ ”

“Yeah. If we’re the guards of society, then who will watch us and make sure that we’re not dangerous?”

Susan nodded, unsure how to respond.

Hale smiled. “It’s how Tankado signed all his letters to me. It was his favorite saying.”

Chapter 32

David Becker stood in the hallway outside suite 301. He knew that somewhere behind the ornately carved door was the ring. A matter of national security.

Becker could hear movement inside the room. Faint talking. He knocked. A deep German accent called out.

“Ja?”

Becker remained silent.

“Ja?”

The door opened a crack, and a rotund Germanic face gazed down at him.

Becker smiled politely. He did not know the man’s name. “Deutscher, ja?” he asked. “German, right?”

The man nodded, uncertain.

Becker continued in perfect German. “May I speak to you a moment?”

The man looked uneasy. “Was willst du? What do you want?”

Becker realized he should have rehearsed this before brazenly knocking on a stranger’s door. He searched for the right words. “You have something I need.”

These were apparently not the right words. The German’s eyes narrowed.

“Ein ring,” Becker said. “Du hast einen Ring. You have a ring.”

“Go away,” the German growled. He started to close the door. Without thinking, Becker slid his foot into the crack and jammed the door open. He immediately regretted the action.

The German’s eyes went wide. “Was tust du?” he demanded. “What are you doing?”

Becker knew he was in over his head. He glanced nervously up and down the hall. He’d already been thrown out of the clinic; he had no intention of going two for two.

“Nimm deinen Fu? weg!” the German bellowed. “Remove your foot!”

Becker scanned the man’s pudgy fingers for a ring. Nothing. I’m so close, he thought. “Ein Ring!” Becker repeated as the door slammed shut.

David Becker stood a long moment in the well-furnished hallway. A replica of a Salvador Dali hung nearby. “Fitting.” Becker groaned. Surrealism. I’m trapped in an absurd dream. He’d woken up that morning in his own bed but had somehow ended up in Spain breaking into a stranger’s hotel room on a quest for some magical ring.

Strathmore’s stern voice pulled him back to reality: You must find that ring.

Becker took a deep breath and blocked out the words. He wanted to go home. He looked back to the door marked 301. His ticket home was just on the other side-a gold ring. All he had to do was get it.

He exhaled purposefully. Then he strode back to suite 301 and knocked loudly on the door. It was time to play hardball.

The German yanked open the door and was about to protest, but Becker cut him off. He flashed his Maryland squash club ID and barked, “Polizei!” Then Becker pushed his way into the room and threw on the lights.

Wheeling, the German squinted in shock. “Was machst-”

“Silence!” Becker switched to English. “Do you have a prostitute in this room?” Becker peered around the room. It was as plush as any hotel room he’d ever seen. Roses, champagne, a huge canopy bed. Rocio was nowhere to be seen. The bathroom door was closed.

“Prostituiert?” The German glanced uneasily at the closed bathroom door. He was larger than Becker had imagined. His hairy chest began right under his triple chin and sloped outward to his colossal gut. The drawstring of his white terry-cloth Alfonso XIII bathrobe barely reached around his waist.

Becker stared up at the giant with his most intimidating look. “What is your name?”

A look of panic rippled across the German’s corpulent face. “Was willst du? What do you want?”

“I am with the tourist relations branch of the Spanish Guardia here in Seville. Do you have a prostitute in this room?”

The German glanced nervously at the bathroom door. He hesitated. “Ja,” he finally admitted.

“Do you know this is illegal in Spain?”

“Nein,” the German lied. “I did not know. I’ll send her home right now.”

“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” Becker said with authority. He strolled casually into the room. “I have a proposition for you.”

“Ein Vorschlag?” The German gasped. “A proposition?”

“Yes. I can take you to headquarters right now…” Becker paused dramatically and cracked his knuckles.

“Or what?” the German asked, his eyes widening in fear.

“Or we make a deal.”

“What kind of deal?” The German had heard stories about the corruption in the Spanish Guardia Civil.

“You have something I want,” Becker said.

“Yes, of course!” the German effused, forcing a smile. He went immediately to the wallet on his dresser. “How much?”

Becker let his jaw drop in mock indignation. “Are you trying to bribe an officer of the law?” he bellowed.

“No! Of course not! I just thought…” The obese man quickly set down his wallet. “I… I…” He was totally flustered. He collapsed on the corner of the bed and wrung his hands. The bed groaned under his weight. “I’m sorry.”

Becker pulled a rose from the vase in the center of the room and casually smelled it before letting it fall to the floor. He spun suddenly. “What can you tell me about the murder?”

The German went white. “Mord? Murder?”

“Yes. The Asian man this morning? In the park? It was an assassination-Ermordung.” Becker loved the German word for assassination. Ermordung. It was so chilling.

“Ermordung? He… he was…?”

“Yes.”

“But… but that’s impossible,” the German choked. “I was there. He had a heart attack. I saw it. No blood. No bullets.”

Becker shook his head condescendingly. “Things are not always as they seem.”

The German went whiter still.

Becker gave an inward smile. The lie had served its purpose. The poor German was sweating profusely.

“Wh-wh-at do you want?” he stammered. “I know nothing.”

Becker began pacing. “The murdered man was wearing a gold ring. I need it.”

“I-I don’t have it.”

Becker sighed patronizingly and motioned to the bathroom door. “And Rocio? Dewdrop?”

The man went from white to purple. “You know Dewdrop?” He wiped the sweat from his fleshy forehead and drenched his terry-cloth sleeve. He was about to speak when the bathroom door swung open.

Both men looked up.

Rocio Eva Granada stood in the doorway. A vision. Long flowing red hair, perfect Iberian skin, deep-brown eyes, a high smooth forehead. She wore a white terry-cloth robe that matched the German’s. The tie was drawn snugly over her wide hips, and the neck fell loosely open to reveal her tanned cleavage. She stepped into the bedroom, the picture of confidence.

“May I help you?” she asked in throaty English.

Becker gazed across the room at the stunning woman before him and did not blink. “I need the ring,” he said coldly.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

Becker switched to Spanish with a dead-on Andalusian accent. “Guardia Civil.”

She laughed. “Impossible,” she replied in Spanish.

Becker felt a knot rise in his throat. Rocio was clearly a little tougher than her client. “Impossible?” he repeated, keeping his cool. “Shall I take you downtown to prove it?”

Rocio smirked. “I will not embarrass you by accepting your offer. Now, who are you?”

Becker stuck to his story. “I am with the Seville Guardia.”

Rocio stepped menacingly toward him. “I know every police officer on the force. They are my best clients.”

Becker felt her stare cutting right through him. He regrouped. “I am with a special tourist task force. Give me the ring, or I’ll have to take you down to the precinct and-”

“And what?” she demanded, raising her eyebrows in mock anticipation.

Becker fell silent. He was in over his head. The plan was backfiring. Why isn’t she buying this?

Rocio came closer. “I don’t know who you are or what you want, but if you don’t get out of this suite right now, I will call hotel security, and the real Guardia will arrest you for impersonating a police officer.”

Becker knew that Strathmore could have him out of jail in five minutes, but it had been made very clear to him that this matter was supposed to be handled discreetly. Getting arrested was not part of the plan.

Rocio had stopped a few feet in front of Becker and was glaring at him.

“Okay.” Becker sighed, accentuating the defeat in his voice. He let his Spanish accent slip. “I am not with the Seville police. A U.S. government organization sent me to locate the ring. That’s all I can reveal. I’ve been authorized to pay you for it.”

There was a long silence.

Rocio let his statement hang in the air a moment before parting her lips in a sly smile. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” She sat down on a chair and crossed her legs. “How much can you pay?”

Becker muffled his sigh of relief. He wasted no time getting down to business. “I can pay you 750,000 pesetas. Five thousand American dollars.” It was half what he had on him but probably ten times what the ring was actually worth.

Rocio raised her eyebrows. “That’s a lot of money.”

“Yes it is. Do we have a deal?”

Rocio shook her head. “I wish I could say yes.”

“A million pesetas?” Becker blurted. “It’s all I have.”

“My, my.” She smiled. “You Americans don’t bargain very well. You wouldn’t last a day in our markets.”

“Cash, right now,” Becker said, reaching for the envelope in his jacket. I just want to go home.

Rocio shook her head. “I can’t.”

Becker bristled angrily. “Why not?”

“I no longer have the ring,” she said apologetically. “I’ve already sold it.”

Chapter 33

Tokugen Numataka stared out his window and paced like a caged animal. He had not yet heard from his contact, North Dakota. Damn Americans! No sense of punctuality!

He would have called North Dakota himself, but he didn’t have a phone number for him. Numataka hated doing business this way-with someone else in control.

The thought had crossed Numataka’s mind from the beginning that the calls from North Dakota could be a hoax-a Japanese competitor playing him for the fool. Now the old doubts were coming back. Numataka decided he needed more information.

He burst from his office and took a left down Numatech’s main hallway. His employees bowed reverently as he stormed past. Numataka knew better than to believe they actually loved him-bowing was a courtesy Japanese employees offered even the most ruthless of bosses.

Numataka went directly to the company’s main switchboard. All calls were handled by a single operator on a Corenco 2000, twelve-line switchboard terminal. The woman was busy but stood and bowed as Numataka entered.

“Sit down,” he snapped.

She obeyed.

“I received a call at four forty-five on my personal line today. Can you tell me where it came from?” Numataka kicked himself for not having done this earlier.

The operator swallowed nervously. “We don’t have caller identification on this machine, sir. But I can contact the phone company. I’m sure they can help.”

Numataka had no doubt the phone company could help. In this digital age, privacy had become a thing of the past; there was a record of everything. Phone companies could tell you exactly who had called you and how long you’d spoken.

“Do it,” he commanded. “Let me know what you find out.”

Chapter 34

Susan sat alone in Node 3, waiting for her tracer. Hale had decided to step outside and get some air-a decision for which she was grateful. Oddly, however, the solitude in Node 3 provided little asylum. Susan found herself struggling with the new connection between Tankado and Hale.

“Who will guard the guards?” she said to herself. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. The words kept circling in her head. Susan forced them from her mind.

Her thoughts turned to David, hoping he was all right. She still found it hard to believe he was in Spain. The sooner they found the pass-keys and ended this, the better.

Susan had lost track of how long she’d been sitting there waiting for her tracer. Two hours? Three? She gazed out at the deserted Crypto floor and wished her terminal would beep. There was only silence. The late-summer sun had set. Overhead, the automatic fluorescents had kicked on. Susan sensed time was running out.

She looked down at her tracer and frowned. “Come on,” she grumbled. “You’ve had plenty of time.” She palmed her mouse and clicked her way into her tracer’s status window. “How long have you been running, anyway?”

Susan opened the tracer’s status window-a digital clock much like the one on TRANSLTR; it displayed the hours and minutes her tracer had been running. Susan gazed at the monitor expecting to see a readout of hours and minutes. But she saw something else entirely. What she saw stopped the blood in her veins.

TRACER ABORTED

“Tracer aborted!” she choked aloud. “Why?”

In a sudden panic, Susan scrolled wildly through the data, searching the programming for any commands that might have told the tracer to abort. But her search went in vain. It appeared her tracer had stopped all by itself. Susan knew this could mean only one thing-her tracer had developed a bug.

Susan considered “bugs” the most maddening asset of computer programming. Because computers followed a scrupulously precise order of operations, the most minuscule programming errors often had crippling effects. Simple syntactical errors-such as a programmer mistakenly inserting a comma instead of a period-could bring entire systems to their knees. Susan had always thought the term “bug” had an amusing origin:

It came from the world’s first computer-the Mark 1-a room-size maze of electromechanical circuits built in 1944 in a lab at Harvard University. The computer developed a glitch one day, and no one was able to locate the cause. After hours of searching, a lab assistant finally spotted the problem. It seemed a moth had landed on one of the computer’s circuit boards and shorted it out. From that moment on, computer glitches were referred to as bugs.

“I don’t have time for this,” Susan cursed.

Finding a bug in a program was a process that could take days. Thousands of lines of programming needed to be searched to find a tiny error-it was like inspecting an encyclopedia for a single typo.

Susan knew she had only one choice-to send her tracer again. She also knew the tracer was almost guaranteed to hit the same bug and abort all over again. Debugging the tracer would take time, time she and the commander didn’t have.

But as Susan stared at her tracer, wondering what error she’d made, she realized something didn’t make sense. She had used this exact same tracer last month with no problems at all. Why would it develop a glitch all of a sudden?

As she puzzled, a comment Strathmore made earlier echoed in her mind. Susan, I tried to send the tracer myself, but the data it returned was nonsensical.

Susan heard the words again. The data it returned…

She cocked her head. Was it possible? The data it returned?

If Strathmore had received data back from the tracer, then it obviously was working. His data was nonsensical, Susan assumed, because he had entered the wrong search strings-but nonetheless, the tracer was working.

Susan immediately realized that there was one other possible explanation for why her tracer aborted. Internal programming flaws were not the only reasons programs glitched; sometimes there were external forces-power surges, dust particles on circuit boards, faulty cabling. Because the hardware in Node 3 was so well tuned, she hadn’t even considered it.

Susan stood and strode quickly across Node 3 to a large bookshelf of technical manuals. She grabbed a spiral binder marked SYS-OP and thumbed through. She found what she was looking for, carried the manual back to her terminal, and typed a few commands. Then she waited while the computer raced through a list of commands executed in the past three hours. She hoped the search would turn up some sort of external interrupt-an abort command generated by a faulty power supply or defective chip.

Moments later Susan’s terminal beeped. Her pulse quickened. She held her breath and studied the screen.

ERROR CODE 22

Susan felt a surge of hope. It was good news. The fact that the inquiry had found an error code meant her tracer was fine. The trace had apparently aborted due to an external anomaly that was unlikely to repeat itself.

Error code 22. Susan racked her memory trying to remember what code 22 stood for. Hardware failures were so rare in Node 3 that she couldn’t remember the numerical codings.

Susan flipped through the SYS-OP manual, scanning the list of error codes.

19: CORRUPT HARD PARTITION

20: DC SPIKE

21: MEDIA FAILURE

When she reached number 22, she stopped and stared a long moment. Baffled, she double-checked her monitor.

ERROR CODE 22

Susan frowned and returned to the SYS-OP manual. What she saw made no sense. The explanation simply read:

22: MANUAL ABORT

Chapter 35

Becker stared in shock at Rocio. “You sold the ring?”

The woman nodded, her silky red hair falling around her shoulders.

Becker willed it not to be true. “Pero… but…”

She shrugged and said in Spanish, “A girl near the park.”

Becker felt his legs go weak. This can’t be!

Rocio smiled coyly and motioned to the German. “El queria que lo guardara. He wanted to keep it, but I told him no. I’ve got Gitana blood in me, Gypsy blood; we Gitanas, in addition to having red hair, are very superstitious. A ring offered by a dying man is not a good sign.”

“Did you know the girl?” Becker interrogated.

Rocio arched her eyebrows. “Vaya. You really want this ring, don’t you?”

Becker nodded sternly. “Who did you sell it to?”

The enormous German sat bewildered on the bed. His romantic evening was being ruined, and he apparently had no idea why. “Was passiert?” he asked nervously. “What’s happening?”

Becker ignored him.

“I didn’t actually sell it,” Rocio said. “I tried to, but she was just a kid and had no money. I ended up giving it to her. Had I known about your generous offer, I would have saved it for you.”

“Why did you leave the park?” Becker demanded. “Somebody had died. Why didn’t you wait for the police? And give them the ring?”

“I solicit many things, Mr. Becker, but trouble is not one of them. Besides, that old man seemed to have things under control.”

“The Canadian?”

“Yes, he called the ambulance. We decided to leave. I saw no reason to involve my date or myself with the police.”

Becker nodded absently. He was still trying to accept this cruel twist of fate. She gave the damn thing away!

“I tried to help the dying man,” Rocio explained. “But he didn’t seem to want it. He started with the ring-kept pushing it in our faces. He had these three crippled fingers sticking up. He kept pushing his hand at us-like we were supposed to take the ring. I didn’t want to, but my friend here finally did. Then the guy died.”

“And you tried CPR?” Becker guessed.

“No. We didn’t touch him. My friend got scared. He’s big, but he’s a wimp.” She smiled seductively at Becker. “Don’t worry-he can’t speak a word of Spanish.”

Becker frowned. He was wondering again about the bruises on Tankado’s chest. “Did the paramedics give CPR?”

“I have no idea. As I told you, we left before they arrived.”

“You mean after you stole the ring.” Becker scowled.

Rocio glared at him. “We did not steal the ring. The man was dying. His intentions were clear. We gave him his last wish.”

Becker softened. Rocio was right; he probably would have done the same damn thing. “But then you gave the ring to some girl?”

“I told you. The ring made me nervous. The girl had lots of jewelry on. I thought she might like it.”

“And she didn’t think it was strange? That you’d just give her a ring?”

“No. I told her I found it in the park. I thought she might offer to pay me for it, but she didn’t. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get rid of it.”

“When did you give it to her?”

Rocio shrugged. “This afternoon. About an hour after I got it.”

Becker checked his watch: 11:48 p.m. The trail was eight hours old. What the hell am I doing here? I’m supposed to be in the Smokys. He sighed and asked the only question he could think of. “What did the girl look like?”

“Era un punki,” Rocio replied.

Becker looked up, puzzled. “Un punki?”

“Si. Punki.”

“A punk?”

“Yes, a punk,” she said in rough English, and then immediately switched back to Spanish. “Mucha joyeria. Lots of jewelry. A weird pendant in one ear. A skull, I think.”

“There are punk rockers in Seville?”

Rocio smiled. “Todo bajo el sol. Everything under the sun.” It was the motto of Seville’s Tourism Bureau.

“Did she give you her name?”

“No.”

“Did she say where she was going?”

“No. Her Spanish was poor.”

“She wasn’t Spanish?” Becker asked.

“No. She was English, I think. She had wild hair-red, white, and blue.”

Becker winced at the bizarre image. “Maybe she was American,” he offered.

“I don’t think so,” Rocio said. “She was wearing a T-shirt that looked like the British flag.”

Becker nodded dumbly. “Okay. Red, white, and blue hair, a British flag T-shirt, a skull pendant in her ear. What else?”

“Nothing. Just your average punk.”

Average punk? Becker was from a world of collegiate sweatshirts and conservative haircuts-he couldn’t even picture what the woman was talking about. “Can you think of anything else at all?” he pressed.

Rocio thought a moment. “No. That’s it.”

Just then the bed creaked loudly. Rocio’s client shifted his weight uncomfortably. Becker turned to him and spoke influent German. “Noch et was? Anything else? Anything to help me find the punk rocker with the ring?”

There was a long silence. It was as if the giant man had something he wanted to say, but he wasn’t sure how to say it. His lower lip quivered momentarily, there was a pause, and then he spoke. The four words that came out were definitely English, but they were barely intelligible beneath his thick German accent. “Fock off und die.”

Becker gaped in shock. “I beg your pardon?

“Fock off und die,” the man repeated, patting his left palm against his fleshy right forearm-a crude approximation of the Italian gesture for “fuck you.”

Becker was too drained to be offended. Fuck off and die? What happened to Das Wimp? He turned back to Rocio and spoke in Spanish. “Sounds like I’ve overstayed my welcome.”

“Don’t worry about him.” She laughed. “He’s just a little frustrated. He’ll get what’s coming to him.” She tossed her hair and winked.

“Is there anything else?” Becker asked. “Anything you can tell me that might help?”

Rocio shook her head. “That’s all. But you’ll never find her. Seville is a big city-it can be very deceptive.”

“I’ll do the best I can.” It’s a matter of national security…

“If you have no luck,” Rocio said, eyeing the bulging envelope in Becker’s pocket, “please stop back. My friend will be sleeping, no doubt. Knock quietly. I’ll find us an extra room. You’ll see a side of Spain you’ll never forget.” She pouted lusciously.

Becker forced a polite smile. “I should be going.” He apologized to the German for interrupting his evening.

The giant smiled timidly. “Keine Ursache.”

Becker headed out the door. No problem? Whatever happened to “Fuck off and die”?

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