David Becker wandered aimlessly down Avenida del Cid and tried to collect his thoughts. Muted shadows played on the cobblestones beneath his feet. The vodka was still with him. Nothing about his life seemed in focus at the moment. His mind drifted back to Susan, wondering if she’d gotten his phone message yet.
Up ahead, a Seville Transit Bus screeched to a halt in front of a bus stop. Becker looked up. The bus’s doors cranked open, but no one disembarked. The diesel engine roared back to life, but just as the bus was pulling out, three teenagers appeared out of a bar up the street and ran after it, yelling and waving. The engines wound down again, and the kids hurried to catch up.
Thirty yards behind them, Becker stared in utter incredulity. His vision was suddenly focused, but he knew what he was seeing was impossible. It was a one‑in‑a‑million chance.
But as the bus doors opened, the kids crowded around to board. Becker saw it again. This time he was certain. Clearly illuminated in the haze of the corner streetlight, he’d seen her.
The passengers climbed on, and the bus’s engines revved up again. Becker suddenly found himself at a full sprint, the bizarre image fixed in his mind‑black lipstick, wild eye shadow, and that hair . . . spiked straight up in three distinctive spires. Red, white, and blue.
As the bus started to move, Becker dashed up the street into awake of carbon monoxide.
“Espera!” he called, running behind the bus.
Becker’s cordovan loafers skimmed the pavement. His usual squash agility was not with him, though; he felt off balance. His brain was having trouble keeping track of his feet. He cursed the bartender and his jet lag.
The bus was one of Seville’s older diesels, and fortunately for Becker, first gear was a long, arduous climb. Becker felt the gap closing. He knew he had to reach the bus before it downshifted.
The twin tailpipes choked out a cloud of thick smoke as the driver prepared to drop the bus into second gear. Becker strained for more speed. As he surged even with the rear bumper, Becker moved right, racing up beside the bus. He could see the rear doors‑and as on all Seville buses, it was propped wide open: cheap air‑conditioning.
Becker fixed his sights on the opening and ignored the burning sensation in his legs. The tires were beside him, shoulder high, humming at a higher and higher pitch every second. He surged toward the door, missing the handle and almost losing his balance. He pushed harder. Underneath the bus, the clutch clicked as the driver prepared to change gears.
He’s shifting! I won’t make it!
But as the engine cogs disengaged to align the larger gears, the bus let up ever so slightly. Becker lunged. The engine reengaged just as his fingertips curled around the door handle. Becker’s shoulder almost ripped from its socket as the engine dug in, catapulting him up onto the landing.
* * *
David Becker lay collapsed just inside the vehicle’s doorway. The pavement raced by only inches away. He was now sober. His legs and shoulder ached. Wavering, he stood, steadied himself, and climbed into the darkened bus. In the crowd of silhouettes, only a few seats away, were the three distinctive spikes of hair.
Red, white, and blue! I made it!
Becker’s mind filled with images of the ring, the waiting Learjet 60, and at the end of it all, Susan.
As Becker came even with the girl’s seat wondering what to say to her, the bus passed beneath a streetlight. The punk’s face was momentarily illuminated.
Becker stared in horror. The makeup on her face was smeared across a thick stubble. She was not a girl at all, but a young man. He wore a silver stud in his upper lip, a black leather jacket, and no shirt.
“What the fuck do you want?” the hoarse voice asked. His accent was New York.
With the disorientated nausea of a slow‑motion free fall, Becker gazed at the busload of passengers staring back at him. They were all punks. At least half of them had red, white, and blue hair.
“Sientate!” the driver yelled.
Becker was too dazed to hear.
“Sientate!” The driver screamed. “Sit down!”
Becker turned vaguely to the angry face in the rearview mirror. But he had waited too long.
Annoyed, the driver slammed down hard on the brakes. Becker felt his weight shift. He reached for a seat back but missed. For an instant, David Becker was airborne. Then he landed hard on the gritty floor.
On Avenida del Cid, a figure stepped from the shadows. He adjusted his wire‑rim glasses and peered after the departing bus. David Becker had escaped, but it would not be for long. Of all the buses in Seville, Mr. Becker had just boarded the infamous number 27.
Bus 27 had only one destination.