David Becker had been to funerals and seen dead bodies before, but there was something particularly unnerving about this one. It was not an immaculately groomed corpse resting in a silk‑lined coffin. This body had been stripped naked and dumped unceremoniously on an aluminum table. The eyes had not yet found their vacant, lifeless gaze. Instead they were twisted upward toward the ceiling in an eerie freeze‑frame of terror and regret.
“?Donde estan sus efectos?” Becker asked in fluent Castillian Spanish. “Where are his belongings?”
“Alli,” replied the yellow‑toothed lieutenant. He pointed to a counter of clothing and other personal items.
“?Es todo? Is that all?”
Becker asked for a cardboard box. The lieutenant hurried off to find one.
It was Saturday evening, and the Seville morgue was technically closed. The young lieutenant had let Becker in under direct orders from the head of the Seville Guardia‑it seemed the visiting American had powerful friends.
Becker eyed the pile of clothes. There was a passport, wallet, and glasses stuffed in one of the shoes. There was also a small duffel the Guardia had taken from the man’s hotel. Becker’s directions were clear: Touch nothing. Read nothing. Just bring it all back. Everything. Don’t miss anything.
Becker surveyed the pile and frowned. What could the NSA possibly want with this junk?
The lieutenant returned with a small box, and Becker began putting the clothes inside.
The officer poked at the cadaver’s leg. “?Quienes? Who is he?”
Japanese, Becker thought.
“Poor bastard. Heart attack, huh?”
Becker nodded absently. “That’s what they told me.”
The lieutenant sighed and shook his head sympathetically. “The Seville sun can be cruel. Be careful out there tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” Becker said. “But I’m headed home.”
The officer looked shocked. “You just got here!”
“I know, but the guy paying my airfare is waiting for these items.”
The lieutenant looked offended in the way only a Spaniard can be offended. “You mean you’re not going to experience Seville?”
“I was here years ago. Beautiful city. I’d love to stay.”
“So you’ve seen La Giralda?”
Becker nodded. He’d never actually climbed the ancient Moorish tower, but he’d seen it.
“How about the Alcazar?”
Becker nodded again, remembering the night he’d heard Pacode Lucia play guitar in the courtyard‑Flamenco under the stars in a fifteenth‑century fortress. He wished he’d known Susan back then.
“And of course there’s Christopher Columbus.” The officer beamed. “He’s buried in our cathedral.”
Becker looked up. “Really? I thought Columbus was buried in the Dominican Republic.”
“Hell no! Who starts these rumors? Columbus’s body is here in Spain! I thought you said you went to college.”
Becker shrugged. “I must have missed that day.”
“The Spanish church is very proud to own his relics.”
The Spanish church. Becker knew here was only one church in Spain‑the Roman Catholic church. Catholicism was bigger here than in Vatican City.
“We don’t, of course, have his entire body,” the lieutenant added. “Solo el escroto.”
Becker stopped packing and stared at the lieutenant. Solo el escroto? He fought off a grin. “Just his scrotum?”
The officer nodded proudly. “Yes. When the church obtains the remains of a great man, they saint him and spread the relics to different cathedrals so everyone can enjoy their splendor.”
“And you got the . . .” Becker stifled a laugh.
“Oye! It’s a pretty important part!” the officer defended. “It’s not like we got a rib or a knuckle like those churches in Galicia! You should really stay and see it.”
Becker nodded politely. “Maybe I’ll drop in on my way out of town.”
“Mala suerte.” The officer sighed. “Bad luck. The cathedral’s closed till sunrise mass.”
“Another time then.” Becker smiled, hoisting the box. “I should probably get going. My flight’s waiting. “He made a final glance around the room.
“You want a ride to the airport?” the officer asked. “I’ve got a Moto Guzzi out front.”
“No thanks. I’ll catch a cab.” Becker had driven a motorcycle once in college and nearly killed himself on it. He had no intention of getting on one again, regardless of who was driving.
“Whatever you say,” the officer said, heading for the door. “I’ll get the lights.”
Becker tucked the box under his arm. Have I got everything? He took a last look at the body on the table. The figure was stark naked, face up under fluorescent lights, clearly hiding nothing. Becker found his eyes drawn again to the strangely deformed hands. He gazed a minute, focusing more intently.
The officer killed the lights, and the room went dark.
“Hold on,” Becker said. “Turn those back on.”
The lights flickered back on.
Becker set his box on the floor walked over to the corpse. He leaned down and squinted at the man’s left hand.
The officer followed Becker’s gaze. “Pretty ugly, huh?”
But the deformity was not what had caught Becker’s eye. He’d seen something else. He turned to the officer. “You’re sure everything’s in this box?”
The officer nodded. “Yeah. That’s it.”
Becker stood for moment with his hands on his hips. Then he picked up the box, carried it back over to the counter, and dumped it out. Carefully, piece by piece, he shook out the clothing. Then he emptied the shoes and tapped them as if trying to remove a pebble. After going over everything a second time, he stepped back and frowned.
“Problem?” asked the lieutenant.
“Yeah,” Becker said. “We’re missing something.”