Becker had been walking across the concourse toward a bank of pay phones. He stopped and turned. Coming up behind him was the girl he’d just surprised in the bathroom. She waved for him to wait. “Mister, wait!”
Now what? Becker groaned. She wants to press invasion‑of‑privacy charges?
The girl dragged her duffel toward him. When she arrived, she was now wearing a huge smile. “Sorry to yell at you back there. You just kind of startled me.”
“No problem,” Becker assured, somewhat puzzled. “I was in the wrong place.”
“This will sound crazy,” she said, batting her bloodshot eyes. “But you wouldn’t happen to have some money you can lend me, would you?”
Becker stared at her in disbelief. “Money for what?” he demanded. I’m not funding your drug habit if that’s what you’re asking.
“I’m trying to get back home,” the blonde said. “Can you help?”
“Miss your flight?”
She nodded. “Lost my ticket. They wouldn’t let me get on. Airlines can be such assholes. I don’t have the cash to buy another.”
“Where are your parents?” Becker asked.
“Can you reach them?”
“Nope. Already tried. I think they’re weekending on somebody’s yacht.”
Becker scanned the girl’s expensive clothing. “You don’t have a credit card?”
“Yeah, but my dad canceled it. He thinks I’m on drugs.”
“Are you on drugs?” Becker asked, deadpan, eyeing her swollen forearm.
The girl glared, indignant. “Of course not!” She gave Becker an innocent huff, and he suddenly got the feeling he was being played.
“Come on,” she said. “You look like a rich guy. Can’t you spot me some cash to get home? I could send it to you later.”
Becker figured any cash he gave this girl would end up in the hands of some drug dealer in Triana. “First of all,” he said, “I’m not a rich guy‑I’m a teacher. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do . . .” I’ll call your bluff, that’s what I’ll do. “Why don’t I charge the ticket for you?”
The blonde stared at him in utter shock. “You’d do that?” she stammered, eyes wide with hope. “You’d buy me a ticket home? Oh, God, thank you!”
Becker was speechless. He had apparently misjudged the moment.
The girl threw her arms around him. “It’s been a shitty summer,” she choked, almost bursting into tears. “Oh, thank you! I’ve got to get out of here!”
Becker returned her embrace halfheartedly. The girl let go of him, and he eyed her forearm again.
She followed his gaze to the bluish rash. “Gross, huh?”
Becker nodded. “I thought you said you weren’t on drugs.”
The girl laughed. “It’s Magic Marker! I took off half my skin trying to scrub it off. The ink smeared.”
Becker looked closer. In the fluorescent light, he could see, blurred beneath the reddish swelling on her arm, the faint outline of writing‑words scrawled on flesh.
“But . . . but your eyes,” Becker said, feeling dumb. “They’re all red.”
She laughed. “I was crying. I told you, I missed my flight.”
Becker looked back at the words on her arm.
She frowned, embarrassed. “Oops, you can still kind of read it, can’t you?”
Becker leaned closer. He could read it all right. The message was crystal clear. As he read the four faint words, the last twelve hours flashed before his eyes.
David Becker found himself back in the Alfonso XIII hotel room. The obese German was touching his own forearm and speaking broken English: Fock off und die.
“You okay?” the girl asked, eyeing the dazed Becker.
Becker did not look up from her arm. He was dizzy. The four words smeared across the girl’s flesh carried a very simple message: FUCK OFF AND DIE.
The blonde looked down at it, embarrassed. “This friend of mine wrote it . . . pretty stupid, huh?”
Becker couldn’t speak. Fock off und die. He couldn’t believe it. The German hadn’t been insulting him, he’d been trying to help. Becker lifted his gaze to the girl’s face. In the fluorescent light of the concourse, he could see faint traces of red and blue in the girl’s blond hair.
“Y‑you . . .” Becker stammered, staring at her unpierced ears. “You wouldn’t happen to wear earrings, would you?”
The girl eyed him strangely. She fished a tiny object from her pocket and held it out. Becker gazed at the skull pendant dangling in her hand.
“A clip‑on?” he stammered.
“Hell, yes,” the girl replied. “I’m scared shitless of needles.”