Chapter 17: El Conquistador

Back at Hotel Escondido, I surprisingly found my belongings untouched, figuring Ricardo and his cronies would’ve finished the job. Replaying what I could recall, which admittedly wasn’t much, something felt off – I didn’t understand Valencia’s role in their operation. Ricardo and Pablo probably split whatever they stole off me, but I was already wasted by the time Valencia came over. Even if she’d known I intended to leave, why defend me from Pablo? This couldn’t have been the first time they carried out such a scheme, so I’d be damned if I didn’t investigate.

But first, I checked into another hotel, an upscale place directly on the beach. I cursed myself for not staying there initially. I’ve saved up a decent amount working here; I just never grew comfortable spending like it would last. Upstairs in my suite, I nearly emptied the mini-bar after a six-hour nap. Beer, tequila, rum – I even stooped to straight triple sec. My body went numb as I lay there lifelessly under a fan, zoning in and out of consciousness.

The next morning, I stood naked on the balcony. Everyone seemed so happy – sunbathing and drinking island-infused cocktails. I considered jumping, but what kind of twenty-five-year-old does such a thing? I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself. I tossed my robe over the railing and bought a pair of sunglasses on my way to the cantina.

I didn’t exactly have much of a plan besides socking Pablo in the face. Unlike the other night, I found the marina relatively empty, with most folks out at sea. I clenched my fists approaching the vaguely familiar entrance.

Unfortunately, I found the place lifeless with nothing but a sandy floor. I punched the air out of frustration. Like a savage, I also knocked over a row of stools.

As my adrenaline tapered, I contemplated what to do with myself for the rest of the afternoon. Uninterested in sitting around my hotel room, I wandered along a dirt road into the next barrio, veering away from the ocean into endless streets of indigenous-colored two-story apartments. Everyone was outside, even in maddening heat. Kids jumped over sprinklers and old men played dominoes. Suddenly plagued with a caffeine headache, I pushed into a café back towards the water.

I counted only a handful of customers, mostly couples enjoying a lazy day. Through the back window, which essentially took up the entire wall, I saw a lighthouse just down the shore. It reminded me of that Virginia Woolf saying that there isn’t any meaning to life, so we should look for little daily miracles instead.

¿Que quieres?” the cashier said.

“Cafe con hielo, por favor.”

Es todo?” she asked.

Si,” I smirked, pointing to my bicep. “Pero me gustaría café muy fuerte.”

She rolled her eyes and made my drink. I found a space on the patio and stared out at the horizon.

Tu café,” my server placed a cold brew in front of me. “disfrutá mucho.”

I looked up and couldn’t believe it: Valencia hovering over me in a tight blouse.

It’s you,I said excitedly. “From the other night.”

¿Como?” she acted confused.

Inebriated state aside, I’d never forget the beauty mark below her left dimple.

La verdad,” I stood, nearly knocking over my coffee. “Te conozco.

No,” she shook her head. “Nunca te he visto.”

Valencia backed away, but I grabbed her hand.

¡No me toques!” she pulled away.

For some reason, Valencia seemed angry instead of scared – I couldn’t understand why.

“You know me,” I said. “Me conoces, Valencia.”

No,” she replied. “No te conozco.”

I raised my cup.

“Okay,” I took a swig. “Well hopefully you didn’t drug me again.”

She looked at me, irritated.

Nadie te ha drogado,” Valencia clamored.

Si yo sé,” I said sarcastically. “I’m actually planning on visiting your novio later today.”

Te lo dijé,” she replied. “No es mi novio.”

“Okay,” I smirked. “Tu esposo.”

¡Idiota!” Valencia snapped. “Es mi hermano.”

I took off my sunglasses, so she could see the bruising.

Interestingly, Valencia ran her finger down my face.

No sabía he was going to do that,” she said.

“What did you think would happen?” I said defiantly. “Roofie the gringo and all would be well with the world?”

She crossed her arms.

“Do you always feel so sorry for yourself?” Valencia said.

“What? I don’t feel sorry for myself.”

Mira a ti mismo,” she flicked my chin. “Long, sad face. You had it the other night as well.”

I couldn’t make any sense of our dynamic. Tension was obvious, but she seemed both annoyed and intrigued. Her skin even glowed during daylight.

Valencia cleared another table.

Tengo que trabajar,” she said abruptly. “Don’t come here again.”

“Why not?” I protested. “I’ll do what I want.”

Tu lo sabes,” Valencia called over her shoulder. “And you can do what you want, but just don’t do it here.”

I tattooed my eyes on her curves as she disappeared inside. I finished my coffee and stared back out at the water. Exiting the café, I didn’t bother making eye contact with Valencia and marched towards her brother’s bar.

I found Ricardo and Pablo lugging the day’s catch from the beach. I grinned as Pablo dropped a crate of squirming lobsters. He sprinted towards me and I threw him on the ground. Momentum carried him forward and he crashed into the second bar. Ricardo promptly rushed over to pull us apart.

¡Te mataré!” Pablo erupted.

Cálmate tio,” Ricardo implored.

¡No!” his face turned purple. “Le voy a matar este hijo de puta.

Consistent with my Valencia interaction, I didn’t anticipate Pablo’s reaction.

“Scotty,” Ricardo restrained his cousin. “If I were you, I’d leave now.”

“Leave!?” I exclaimed. “I’m the one who should be upset.”

Pablo reached for a beer bottle, but his cousin prevented him from smashing it.

“You disrespected his family,” Ricardo grunted. “And his honor.”

“His honor?” I yelled. “What about my honor?”

¡ESTAS JODIDO!” Pablo cried.

He broke free and bull-rushed me again. I crouched like I did during my football days and prepared for impact. As he lunged forward, I lowered my shoulder and twisted, pinning him to the ground.

¡Relájate!” I dug my knees into forearms.

Pablo flailed his legs and I ducked forward. I dug my heels into his sides, so he’d stop struggling. Resigned to a loss, he spat in my face.

“ARE YOU SERIOUS!?” I shouted. “ARE YOU A FUCKING ANIMAL!?”

Salvia dripped from my cheek as I swung my elbow into his temple.

“Get off him!” Ricardo hovered over us. “Get off him right now.”

He held a steak knife, so I obliged.

Ricardo helped his cousin up and they glared at me, breathing heavily.

Our situation had escalated to a level even too absurd for me.

“Ricardo,” I demanded. “What the fuck is going on? I came here the other night based on your recommendation. Next thing I know, your maniac cousin drugs and robs me like some wannabe pandillero.”

¡MENTIROSO!” Pablo tried grabbing the knife from Ricardo, who flung it onto the sand.

I braced for him charging again.

“Scotty,” Ricardo said calmly. “I know there’s a language barrier, but that’s not what happened.”

“What do you mean?” I snapped. “How do you know? You weren’t even there!”

“I saw you earlier,” Ricardo explained. “You were very drunk.

“He drugged me,” I panted.

¡Nunca lo he hecho!” Pablo knocked over a table.

Ricardo held his cousin’s arm.

“No,” Ricardo shook his head. “Scotty… When you stumbled in for check-in… I honestly didn’t think you’d make it out that night.”

“What do you mean…” I searched for words. “Sure, I had a few drinks on the plane, but I wasn’t wasted.”

“Then why can’t you remember what happened?” he said calmly. “You were groping her in front of everyone.”

They looked at me curiously and it hit me like that strip club night with Julia the waitress. Valencia, under the direction of her brother came over to welcome me with drinks, not realizing I was already on the verge of blacking out.

Lo siento, Pablo,” I said, shifting to Ricardo.  “Tell him I don’t remember anything and I’d never have done such a thing had I not been so drunk.”

“Okay,” Ricardo said. “But maybe next time, you shouldn’t drink so much,”

Pablo, understanding the sentiment of my words, nodded solemnly.

Todo bien, gringo,” he said.

We shook hands and Ricardo sighed. Nearly all lobsters had escaped, crawling across the dance floor. They grabbed nets to corral them back.

¿Les puedo ayudar?” I motioned to the ground.

Claro,” Ricardo said.

I grabbed one by the tail and it pinched my wrist.

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