“You’re in my seat, asshole.”
Becker lifted his head off his arms. Doesn’t anyone speak Spanish in this damn country?
Glaring down at him was a short, pimple-faced teenager with a shaved head. Half of his scalp was red and half was purple. He looked like an Easter egg. “I said you’re in my seat, asshole.”
“I heard you the first time,” Becker said, standing up. He was in no mood for a fight. It was time to go.
“Where’d you put my bottles?” the kid snarled. There was a safety pin in his nose.
Becker pointed to the beer bottles he’d set on the ground. “They were empty.”
“They were my fuckin’ empties!”
“My apologies,” Becker said, and turned to go.
The punk blocked his way. “Pick ’em up!”
Becker blinked, not amused. “You’re kidding, right?” He was a full foot taller and outweighed the kid by about fifty pounds.
“Do I fuckin’ look like I’m kidding?”
Becker said nothing.
“Pick ’em up!” The kid’s voice cracked.
Becker attempted to step around him, but the teenager blocked his way. “I said, fuckin’ pick ’em up!”
Stoned punks at nearby tables began turning to watch the excitement.
“You don’t want to do this, kid,” Becker said quietly.
“I’m warning you!” The kid seethed. “This is my table! I come here every night. Now pick ’em up!”
Becker’s patience ran out. Wasn’t he supposed to be in the Smokys with Susan? What was he doing in Spain arguing with a psychotic adolescent?
Without warning, Becker caught the kid under the armpits, lifted him up, and slammed his rear end down on the table. “Look, you runny-nosed little runt. You’re going to back off right now, or I’m going to rip that safety pin out of your nose and pin your mouth shut.”
The kid’s face went pale.
Becker held him a moment, then he released his grip. Without taking his eyes off the frightened kid, Becker stooped down, picked up the bottles, and returned them to the table. “What do you say?” he asked.
The kid was speechless.
“You’re welcome,” Becker snapped. This kid’s a walking billboard for birth control.
“Go to hell!” the kid yelled, now aware of his peers laughing at him. “Ass-wipe!”
Becker didn’t move. Something the kid had said suddenly registered. I come here every night. Becker wondered if maybe the kid could help him. “I’m sorry,” Becker said, “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Two-Tone,” he hissed, as if he were giving a death sentence.
“Two-Tone?” Becker mused. “Let me guess… because of your hair?”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
“Catchy name. Make that up yourself?”
“Damn straight,” he said proudly. “I’m gonna patent it.”
Becker scowled. “You mean trademark it?”
The kid looked confused.
“You’d need a trademark for a name,” Becker said. “Not a patent.”
“Whatever!” the punk screamed in frustration.
The motley assortment of drunken and drugged-out kids at the nearby tables were now in hysterics. Two-Tone stood up and sneered at Becker. “What the fuck do you want from me?”
Becker thought a moment. I want you to wash your hair, cleanup your language, and get a job. Becker figured it was too much to ask on a first meeting. “I need some information,” he said.
“I’m looking for someone.”
“I ain’t seen him.”
“Haven’t seen him,” Becker corrected as he flagged a passing waitress. He bought two Aguila beers and handed one to Two-Tone. The boy looked shocked. He took a swig of beer and eyed Becker warily.
“You hitting on me, mister?”
Becker smiled. “I’m looking for a girl.”
Two-Tone let out a shrill laugh. “You sure as hell ain’t gonna get any action dressed like that!”
Becker frowned. “I’m not looking for action. I just need to talk to her. Maybe you could help me find her.”
Two-Tone set down his beer. “You a cop?”
Becker shook his head.
The kid’s eyes narrowed. “You look like a cop.”
“Kid, I’m from Maryland. If I were a cop, I’d be a little out of my jurisdiction, don’t you think?”
The question seemed to stump him.
“My name’s David Becker.” Becker smiled and offered his hand across the table.
The punk recoiled in disgust. “Back off, fag boy.”
Becker retracted the hand.
The kid sneered. “I’ll help you, but it’ll cost you.”
Becker played along. “How much?”
“A hundred bucks.”
Becker frowned. “I’ve only got pesetas.”
“Whatever! Make it a hundred pesetas.”
Foreign currency exchange was obviously not one of Two-Tone’s fortes; a hundred pesetas was about eighty-seven cents. “Deal,” Becker said, rapping his bottle on the table.
The kid smiled for the first time. “Deal.”
“Okay,” Becker continued in his hushed tone. “I figure the girl I’m looking for might hang out here. She’s got red, white, and blue hair.”
Two-Tone snorted. “It’s Judas Taboo’s anniversary. Everybody’s got-”
“She’s also wearing a British flag T-shirt and has a skull pendant in one ear.”
A faint look of recognition crossed Two-Tone’s face. Becker saw it and felt a surge of hope. But a moment later Two-Tone’s expression turned stern. He slammed his bottle down and grabbed Becker’s shirt.
“She’s Eduardo’s, you asshole! I’d watch it! You touch her, and he’ll kill you!”
Midge Milken prowled angrily into the conference room across from her office. In addition to the thirty-two foot mahogany table with the NSA seal inlaid in black cherry and walnut, the conference room contained three Marion Pike watercolors, a Boston fern, a marble wet bar, and of course, the requisite Sparklett’s water cooler. Midge helped herself to a glass of water, hoping it might calm her nerves.
As she sipped at the liquid, she gazed across at the window. The moonlight was filtering through the open venetian blind and playing on the grain of the table. She’d always thought this would make a nicer director’s office than Fontaine’s current location on the front of the building. Rather than looking out over the NSA parking lot, the conference room looked out over an impressive array of NSA outbuildings-including the Crypto dome, a high-tech island floating separate from the main building on three wooded acres. Purposefully situated behind the natural cover of a grove of maples, Crypto was difficult to see from most windows in the NSA complex, but the view from the directorial suite was perfect. To Midge the conference room seemed the perfect vantage point for a king to survey his domain. She had suggested once that Fontaine move his office, but the director had simply replied, “Not on the rear.” Fontaine was not a man to be found on the back end of anything.
Midge pulled apart the blinds. She stared out at the hills. Sighing ruefully, she let her eyes fall toward the spot where Crypto stood. Midge had always felt comforted by the sight of the Crypto dome-a glowing beacon regardless of the hour. But tonight, as she gazed out, there was no comfort. Instead she found herself staring into a void. As she pressed her face to the glass, she was gripped by a wild, girlish panic. Below her there was nothing but blackness. Crypto had disappeared!
The Crypto bathrooms had no windows, and the darkness surrounding Susan Fletcher was absolute. She stood dead still for a moment trying to get her bearings, acutely aware of the growing sense of panic gripping her body. The horrible cry from the ventilation shaft seemed to hang all around her. Despite her effort to fight off a rising sense of dread, fear swept across her flesh and took control.
In a flurry of involuntary motion, Susan found herself groping wildly across stall doors and sinks. Disoriented, she spun through the blackness with her hands out in front of her and tried to picture the room. She knocked over a garbage can and found herself against a tiled wall. Following the wall with her hand, she scrambled toward the exit and fumbled for the door handle. She pulled it open and stumbled out onto the Crypto floor.
There she froze for a second time.
The Crypto floor looked nothing like it had just moments ago. TRANSLTR was a gray silhouette against the faint twilight coming in through the dome. All of the overhead lighting was dead. Not even the electronic keypads on the doors were glowing.
As Susan’s eyes became accustomed to the dark, she saw that the only light in Crypto was coming through the open trapdoor-a faint red glow from the utility lighting below. She moved toward it. There was the faint smell of ozone in the air.
When she made it to the trapdoor, she peered into the hole. The freon vents were still belching swirling mist through the redness, and from the higher-pitched drone of the generators, Susan knew Crypto was running on backup power. Through the mist she could make out Strathmore standing on the platform below. He was leaning over the railing and staring into the depths of TRANSLTR’s rumbling shaft.
There was no response.
Susan eased onto the ladder. The hot air from below rushed in under her skirt. The rungs were slippery with condensation. She set herself down on the grated landing.
Strathmore did not turn. He continued staring down with a blank look of shock, as if in a trance. Susan followed his gaze over the banister. For a moment she could see nothing except wisps of steam. Then suddenly she saw it. A figure. Six stories below. It appeared briefly in the billows of steam. There it was again. A tangled mass of twisted limbs. Lying ninety feet below them, Phil Chartrukian was sprawled across the sharp iron fins of the main generator. His body was darkened and burned. His fall had shorted out Crypto’s main power supply.
But the most chilling image of all was not of Chartrukian but of someone else, another body, halfway down the long staircase, crouched, hiding in the shadows. The muscular frame was unmistakable. It was Greg Hale.
The punk screamed at Becker, “Megan belongs to my friend Eduardo! You stay away from her!”
“Where is she?” Becker’s heart was racing out of control.
“It’s an emergency!” Becker snapped. He grabbed the kid’s sleeve. “She’s got a ring that belongs tome. I’ll pay her for it! A lot!”
Two-Tone stopped dead and burst into hysterics. “You mean that ugly, gold piece of shit is yours?”
Becker’s eyes widened. “You’ve seen it?”
Two-Tone nodded coyly.
“Where is it?” Becker demanded.
“No clue.” Two-Tone chuckled. “Megan was up here trying to hock it.”
“She was trying to sell it?”
“Don’t worry, man, she didn’t have any luck. You’ve got shitty taste in jewelry.”
“Are you sure nobody bought it?”
“Are you shitting me? For four hundred bucks? I told her I’d give her fifty, but she wanted more. She was trying to buy a plane ticket-standby.”
Becker felt the blood drain from his face. “Whereto?”
“Fuckin’ Connecticut,” Two-tone snapped. “Eddie’s bummin’.”
“Shit, yeah. Going back to Mommy and Daddy’s mansion in the burbs. Hated her Spanish homestay family. Three Spic brothers always hitting on her. No fucking hot water.”
Becker felt a knot rise in his throat. “When is she leaving?”
Two-Tone looked up. “When?” He laughed. “She’s long gone by now. Went to the airport hours ago. Best spot to hock the ring-rich tourists and shit. Once she got the cash, she was flying out.”
A dull nausea swept through Becker’s gut. This is some kind of sick joke, isn’t it? He stood a long moment. “What’s her last name?”
Two-Tone pondered the question and shrugged.
“What flight was she taking?”
“She said something about the Roach Coach.”
“Yeah. Weekend red-eye-Seville, Madrid, La Guardia. That’s what they call it. College kids take it ’cause it’s cheap. Guess they sit in back and smoke roaches.”
Great. Becker groaned, running a hand through his hair. “What time did it leave?”
“Two a.m. sharp, every Saturday night. She’s somewhere over the Atlantic by now.”
Becker checked his watch. It read 1:45 p.m. He turned to Two-Tone, confused. “You said it’s a two a.m. flight?”
The punk nodded, laughing. “Looks like you’re fucked, ol’ man.”
Becker pointed angrily to his watch. “But it’s only quarter to two!”
Two-Tone eyed the watch, apparently puzzled. “Well, I’ll be damned.” he laughed. “I’m usually not this buzzed till four a.m.!”
“What’s the fastest way to the airport?” Becker snapped.
“Taxi stand out front.”
Becker grabbed a 1,000-peseta note from his pocket and stuff edit in Two-Tone’s hand.
“Hey, man, thanks!” the punk called after him. “If you see Megan, tell her I said hi!” But Becker was already gone.
Two-Tone sighed and staggered back toward the dance floor. He was too drunk to notice the man in wire-rim glasses following him.
Outside, Becker scanned the parking lot for a taxi. There was none. He ran over to a stocky bouncer. “Taxi!”
The bouncer shook his head. “Demasiado temprano. Too early.”
Too early? Becker swore. It’s two o’clock in the morning!
“Pidame uno! Call me one!”
The man pulled out a walkie-talkie. He said a few words and then signed off. “Veinte minutos,” he offered.
“Twenty minutes?!” Becker demanded. “Y elautobus?”
The bouncer shrugged. “Forty-five minutos.”
Becker threw up his hands. Perfect!
The sound of a small engine turned Becker’s head. It sounded like a chainsaw. A big kid and his chain-clad date pulled into the parking lot on an old Vespa 250 motorcycle. The girl’s skirt had blown high on her thighs. She didn’t seem to notice. Becker dashed over. I can’t believe I’m doing this, he thought. I hate motorcycles. He yelled to the driver. “I’ll pay you ten thousand pesetas to take me to the airport!”
The kid ignored him and killed the engine.
“Twenty thousand!” Becker blurted. “I need to get to the airport!”
The kid looked up. “Scusi?” He was Italian.
“Aeroporto! Per favore. Sulla Vespa! Venti mille pesete!”
The Italian eyed his crummy, little bike and laughed. “Venti mille pesete? La Vespa?”
“Cinquanta mille! Fifty thousand!” Becker offered. It was about four hundred dollars.
The Italian laughed doubtfully. “Dov’e la plata? Where’s the cash?”
Becker pulled five 10,000-peseta notes from his pocket and held them out. The Italian looked at the money and then at his girlfriend. The girl grabbed the cash and stuffed it in her blouse.
“Grazie!” the Italian beamed. He tossed Becker the keys to his Vespa. Then he grabbed his girlfriend’s hand, and they ran off laughing into the building.
“Aspetta!” Becker yelled. “Wait! I wanted a ride!”