Digital Fortress Chapter 17

Digital Fortress Chapter 17

David Becker stepped out onto the scorching tile concourse of Plaza de Espana. Before him, El Ayunta miento-the ancient city council building-rose from the trees on a three-acre bed of blue and white azulejo tiles. Its Arabic spires and carved facade gave the impression it had been intended more as a palace than a public office. Despite its history of military coups, fires, and public hangings, most tourists visited because the local brochures plugged it as the English military headquarters in the film Lawrence of Arabia. It had been far cheaper for Columbia Pictures to film in Spain than in Egypt, and the Moorish influence on Seville’s architecture was enough to convince moviegoers they were looking at Cairo.

Becker reset his Seiko for local time: 9:10 p.m.-still afternoon by local standards; a proper Spaniard never ate dinner before sunset, and the lazy Andalusian sun seldom surrendered the skies before ten.

Even in the early-evening heat, Becker found himself walking across the park at a brisk clip. Strathmore’s tone had sounded a lot more urgent this time than it had that morning. His new orders left no room for misinterpretation: Find the Canadian, get the ring. Do whatever is necessary, just get that ring.

Becker wondered what could possibly be so important about a ring with lettering all over it. Strathmore hadn’t offered, and Becker hadn’t asked. NSA, he thought. Never Say Anything.

On the other side of Avenida Isabela Catolica, the clinic was clearly visible-the universal symbol of a red cross in a white circle painted on the roof. The Guardia officer had dropped the Canadian off hours ago. Broken wrist, bumped head-no doubt the patient had been treated and discharged by now. Becker just hoped the clinic had discharge information-a local hotel or phone number where the man could be reached. With a little luck, Becker figured he could find the Canadian, get the ring, and be on his way home without any more complications.

Strathmore had told Becker, “Use the ten thousand cash to buy the ring if you have to. I’ll reimburse you.”

“That’s not necessary,” Becker had replied. He’d intended to return the money anyway. He hadn’t gone to Spain for money, he’d gone for Susan. Commander Trevor Strathmore was Susan’s mentor and guardian. Susan owed him a lot; a one-day errand was the least Becker could do.

Unfortunately, things this morning hadn’t gone quite as Becker had planned. He’d hoped to call Susan from the plane and explain everything. He considered having the pilot radio Strathmore so he could pass along a message but was hesitant to involve the deputy director in his romantic problems.

Three times Becker had tried to call Susan himself-first from a defunct cellular on board the jet, next from a pay phone at the airport, then again from the morgue. Susan was not in. David wondered where she could be. He’d gotten her answering machine but had not left a message; what he wanted to say was not a message for an answering machine.

As he approached the road, he spotted a phone booth near the park entrance. He jogged over, snatched up the receiver, and used his phone card to place the call. There was a long pause as the number connected. Finally it began to ring.

Come on. Be there.

After five rings the call connected.

“Hi. This is Susan Fletcher. Sorry I’m not in right now, but if you leave your name…”

Becker listened to the message. Where is she? By now Susan would be panicked. He wondered if maybe she’d gone to Stone Manor without him. There was a beep.

“Hi. It’s David.” He paused, unsure what to say. One of the things he hated about answering machines was that if you stopped to think, they cut you off. “Sorry I didn’t call,” he blurted just in time. He wondered if he should tell her what was going on. He thought better of it. “Call Commander Strathmore. He’ll explain everything.” Becker’s heart was pounding. This is absurd, he thought. “I love you,” he added quickly and hung up.

Becker waited for some traffic to pass on Avenida Borbolla. He thought about how Susan undoubtedly would have assumed the worst; it was unlike him not to call when he’d promised to.

Becker stepped out onto the four-lane boulevard. “In and out,” he whispered to himself. “In and out.” He was too preoccupied to see the man in wire-rim glasses watching from across the street.