David Becker stood in a phone booth across the street from La Clinica de Salud Publica; he’d just been ejected for harassing patient number 104, Monsieur Cloucharde.
Things were suddenly more complicated than he’d anticipated. His little favor to Strathmore‑picking up some personal belongings‑had turned into a scavenger hunt for some bizarre ring.
He’d just called Strathmore and told him about the German tourist. The news had not been received well. After demanding the specifics, Strathmore had fallen silent for a long time. “David,” he had finally said very gravely, “finding that ring is a matter of national security. I’m leaving it in your hands. Don’t fail me.” The phone had gone dead.
David stood in the phone booth and sighed. He picked up the tattered Guia Telefonica and began scanning the yellow pages. “Here goes nothing,” he muttered to himself.
There were only three listings for Escort Services in the directory, and he didn’t have much to go on. All he knew was that the German’s date had red hair, which conveniently was rare in Spain. The delirious Cloucharde had recalled the escort’s name as Dewdrop. Becker cringed‑Dewdrop? It sounded more like a cow than a beautiful girl. Not a good Catholic name at all; Cloucharde must have been mistaken.
Becker dialed the first number.
* * *
“Servicio Social de Sevilla,” a pleasant female voice answered.
Becker affected his Spanish with a thick German accent. “Hola,?hablas Aleman?”
“No. But I speak English” came the reply.
Becker continued in broken English. “Thank you. I wondering if you to help me?”
“How can we be of service?” The woman spoke slowly in an effort to aid her potential client. “Perhaps you would like an escort?”
“Yes, please. Today my brother, Klaus, he has girl, very beautiful. Red hair. I want same. For tomorrow, please.”
“Your brother Klaus comes here?” The voice was suddenly effervescent, like they were old friends.
“Yes. He very fat. You remember him, no?”
“He was here today, you say?”
Becker could hear her checking the books. There would be no Klaus listed, but Becker figured clients seldom used their real names.
“Hmm, I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I don’t see him here. What was the girl’s name your brother was with?”
“Had red hair,” Becker said, avoiding the question.
“Red hair?” she repeated. There was a pause. “This is Servicio Social de Sevilla. Are you sure your brother comes here?”
“Senor, we have no redheads. We have only pure Andalusian beauties.”
“Red hair,” Becker repeated, feeling stupid.
“I’m sorry, we have no redheads at all, but if you—”
“Name is Dewdrop,” Becker blurted, feeling even stupider.
The ridiculous name apparently meant nothing to the woman. She apologized, suggested Becker was confusing her with another agency, and politely hung up.
* * *
Becker frowned and dialed the next number. It connected immediately.
“Buenas noches, Mujeres Espana. May I help you?”
Becker launched into his same spiel, a German tourist who was willing to pay top dollar for the red‑haired girl who was out with his brother today.
This time the response was in polite German, but again no redheads. “Keine Rotkopfe, I’m sorry.” The woman hung up.
Becker looked down at the phone book. There was only one number left. The end of the rope already.
* * *
“Escortes Belen,” a man answered in a very slick tone.
Again Becker told his story.
“Si, si, senor. My name is Senor Roldan. I would be pleased to help. We have two redheads. Lovely girls.”
Becker’s heart leapt. “Very beautiful?” he repeated in his German accent. “Red hair?”
“Yes, what is your brother’s name? I will tell you who was his escort today. And we can send her to you tomorrow.”
“Klaus Schmidt.” Becker blurted a name recalled from an old textbook.
A long pause. “Well, sir . . . I don’t see a Klaus Schmidt on our registry, but perhaps your brother chose to be discreet‑perhaps a wife at home?” He laughed inappropriately.
“Yes, Klaus married. But he very fat. His wife no lie with him.” Becker rolled his eyes at himself reflected in the booth. If Susan could hear me now, he thought. “I fat and lonely too. I want lie with her. Pay lots of money.”
Becker was giving an impressive performance, but he’d gone too far. Prostitution was illegal in Spain, and Senor Roldan was a careful man. He’d been burned before by Guardia officials posing as eager tourists. I want lie with her. Roldan knew it was a setup. If he said yes, he would be heavily fined and, as always, forced to provide one of his most talented escorts to the police commissioner free of charge for an entire weekend.
When Roldan spoke, his voice not quite as friendly. “Sir, this is Escortes Belen. May I ask who’s calling?”
“Aah . . . Sigmund Schmidt,” Becker invented weakly.
“Where did you get our number?”
“La Guia Telefonica‑yellow pages.”
“Yes, sir, that’s because we are an escort service.”
“Yes. I want escort.” Becker sensed something was wrong.
“Sir, Escortes Belen is a service providing escorts to businessmen for luncheons and dinners. This is why we are listed in the phone book. What we do is legal. What you are looking for is a prostitute.” The word slid off his tongue like a vile disease.
“But my brother . . .”
“Sir, if your brother spent the day kissing a girl in the park, she was not one of ours. We have strict regulations about client‑escort contact.”
“But . . .”
“You have us confused with someone else. We only have two redheads, Inmaculada and Rocio, and neither would allow a man to sleep with them for money. That is called prostitution, and it is illegal in Spain. Good night, sir.”
Becker swore under his breath and dropped the phone back into its cradle. Strike three. He was certain Cloucharde had said the German had hired the girl for the entire weekend.
* * *
Becker stepped out of the phone booth at the intersection of Calle Salado and Avenida Asuncion. Despite the traffic, the sweet scent of Seville oranges hung all around him. It was twilight‑the most romantic hour. He thought of Susan. Strathmore’s words invaded his mind: Find the ring. Becker flopped miserably on a bench and pondered his next move.