"That young man's staring at me," Marge says.
Ray Elrood, absent-mindedly perusing a set of female buttocks flouncing their way between two rows of plastic cafeteria tables, glances up at his spouse.
"Which young man?" he asks.
"Over there. In the soccer outfit."
Ray follows the trajectory indicated by Marge's nod. Across the aisle, a platoon of Latin youths is wolfing sandwiches and meat pies, slurping sweet drinks. They lounge provocatively; engage in macho shenanigans and repartee.
"They're all wearing soccer uniforms," he says. "Must be a local high school team stopping after the game."
"It's the one with the mustache. And the red bandanna."
Ray picks out the young man Marge means.
He looks about sixteen, smooth-faced except for a fringe of hairs curving in a half moon above his upper lip. The accoutrement of some 1940s bebop hipster. His hair is jet and wiry, cut close to his skull. He wears the same black and gold T-shirt and sweatpants as the rest of the team, augmented with a bright red bandanna tied around his neck in the manner of a romantic poet. Gesturing dramatically, he concludes telling two teammates some wild ass tale of seduction. They vie with each other in dissing its veracity. A mock tussle breaks out.
"He's not staring now."
"Well, he was," Marge says defensively.
"Ogling your tits, was he?"
"Don't be crude."
Ray scratches his chin. He's not sure whether Marge expects him to do something about the stranger's aggressive gaze. Perhaps slap him across the cheeks, demand satisfaction by dueling pistols at dawn. Ray's inclination is to drop the entire matter without further ado.
"Maybe we should head back to the tour bus," Ray says, glancing at his cheap plastic wristwatch. "It is recommended," reads the cruise line brochure, "that no jewelry or expensive watches be worn while touring ports of call."
"I need to use the bathroom," Marge replies. There's no piss-pot on the bus.
Gathering up her oversized purse, she glances around, at last heading off to a far corner of the cafeteria. She strides like an alpine hiker at the mall.
On this, the fourth day of a ten-day cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, Ray and Marge and a dozen other adventuresome passengers are on a day tour to the capital of the Republic. The day is waning. Marge has a bladder infection.
As Marge disappears from view into the bano mujer, Ray pushes away the plate with its abandoned sandwich crusts and brushes his shirt for crumbs. What I need, he thinks, is an ice cream cone. He pushes up to a standing position, looks again at the youth with the bandanna and peach fuzz; then meanders toward the dessert counter. His dick keeps hoping for another glimpse of the provocative buns.
He wanders around, licking the mango swirl ice cream, but the owner of the outstanding booty is nowhere to be found. He sits down just as Marge comes up.
"Where's the camera?" she demands, frowning at the ice cream cone.
"Half of this is yours," Ray says, waving the hand holding it.
"With your spit all over it? Gross! Now, where's the camera?"
Ray gives her a blank stare, his lips blow out a puff of air. Pffffff.
"You didn't bring the camera," he says, "because I wanted to take a picture of the bronze-horsed hero of the Revolution and you said, quote, 'Oh Fuck! The camera's sitting by my bed back on the ship,' unquote."
"I'm worried about you," Marge says. "You've totally imagined that little scene. It figures you'd contract some unusual form of Alzheimer's, where you become delusional as opposed to brain dead." She tries to put her hand on his forehead. He pulls back.
"When I went to the john, the camera was sitting on the table directly in front of me," Marge says. "Now it's gone."
"I'm sure it wasn't here," Ray says. "I'm not that far gone."
"You wish," Marge says, "because you went to get ice cream and left the camera sitting here. And that hoodlum stole it."
"The one with the faggoty mustache and the scarf sitting over there. He's been eyeballing my Canon digital all afternoon."
"Him? The one who was checking out your mangos?"
At that moment a woman with a management badge pinned to her pale blue polo shirt walks by.
Marge, still standing, addresses her with ferocity: "Senora. My camera's been stolen by that scumbag over there." Her words boom across the room. Her nod identifies the hipster-poet soccer player as the perp. His name, embroidered across the left breast of his soccer shirt, is Angel.
Marge is of the school of gringo travelers who thinks speaking in loud, aggressive tones will overcome the impenetrable barrier between American-ese and the local lingo.
When she singles him out, Angel bounds to his feet. Anger suffuses his face like cheap burgundy on a white shirt. He accuses Marge of lying. Demands an immediate apology. All in Spanish. He's studied English in secondary school, but is too unsure of himself to speak it. His teammates crowd around, looking angry and nihilistic.
The coach pushes through the throng of testosterone.
"What the fuck's going on here?" he asks in perfect English.
"That boy stole my camera."
"Impossible. Why would a spoiled rich kid want to steal a camera from some fat gringo?"
Blows are exchanged. Marge uses her bag like a shillelagh. Ray swoops his arm across her chest and drags her backwards. The cafeteria manageress steps between Marge and the coach, who promptly slaps the manageress in the face. She slaps him back.
Before things get too repetitious, some kind of policeman in a faded blue uniform with frayed shirt cuffs edges through the tide pool of emotion.
"Mas tranquilo," he urges, his hands raising and lowering.
Turning to Ray, Marge asks: "What's he saying?"
"Something about tequila, I think."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"This whole thing doesn't make any sense. It's off the rails," admonishes Ray. "Let's just get on the van and get back to the ship." He looks again at his watch. "If we leave now, we can still make the first sitting for dinner."
"What about the camera?"
"Fuck the camera."
"Of course you'd say that. You didn't pay three hundred dollars for the latest model available only at the Vegas Electronics Show or on line. As usual you've got zero skin in the game."
"What do you mean, no skin? If we stick around here we're likely to have stilettos poked through our vital organs."
"I always knew you had a yellow streak."
He almost strikes her. Which is what she wants, so she can refuse him sex privileges back on the cruise ship. Relegate him to the couch in the sitting room of their suite. Even cut off his bar tab, which she pays for out of her mother's estate. Ray is presently unemployed. He holds his temper in check, gripping his hands into fists as if crushing a pair of fat water roaches. Euw!
Out of nowhere, two more cops appear. These guys are the real thing. Radiating menace.
The crowd grows nervous, restive. The Marxist slackers and hangers-on at the back peel away, suddenly remembering important appointments elsewhere.
"What's going on here?" the cop who looks like Ernie Kovaks in the movie version of Our Man in Havana says. Hard-billed Gestapo cap, algae-green fatigues with epaulets and a cluster of ribbons above one pocket. Shades.
A large weapon in a flapped leather holster hangs at his waist.
This is Lieutenant Diablo Reiner.
"That young hooligan stole my camera," answers Marge. She gestures again at the youth with the lip fringe and bandanna. "And that man…" she wishes she could eviscerate the coach with the blade-like edge of her French nail manicure job, "attacked me."
"She's making it up," the boy yells.
The other cop, in matching fatigues but without the fruit salad and wearing an Aussie snap-brim hat with one side turned up, backhands Angel in the mouth. Like in a comic strip, his head seems to fly in the opposite direction; then bounces back. Blood oozes from his split lip.
"How much is the camera worth?" Reiner asks.
"I paid three hundred dollars for it. U.S. dollars."
The cop licks his lips. It's a lot of money in a poor country contiguous to the Tropic of Cancer.
"And how do you know this person took it."
"Because he's been staring at it the entire time we've been here."
Reiner looks sadly at the boy.
The command is directed to both Sergeant Gomez in the outback headgear and the officer in the blue uniform, who's with traffic control. The latter grasps the young man's arms from behind while Gomez pats him down. A few coins and a condom in its foil wrapper are the only result.
"He must have passed it to a confederate," Marge says. "It's probably already for sale in the thieves market."
"Don't be making up shit," hisses Ray.
Marge takes a deep breath.
"And he was ogling my breasts," she says.
"Which must have been spectacular, senora, about 30 years ago." The Lieutenant says this in Spanish. Some of the remaining riffraff snicker. Others just blink their eyes. "Ah ha. Not only a thief but a sex maniac too," Reiner says in gringo-speak. "A bad hombre."