Hugo recognized me straight off. I did not recognize Hugo. When my shift ended, we sat drinking and talking late in the bar. After, he couldn't remember where he was staying. So we walked up the hill to my apartment. He passed out in my hammock, drunk, true, but not the rumored addict or alcoholic. My former soft, bratty-boy, employer had become a hard-boned man. His linen jacket strained across his shoulders. Thick, scarred hands made sandpaper sounds while he slept, clenching and unclenching hammock rope.
Just three credit cards in his pocket, ID, passport. I was picking through him when he chuckled and passed out again. I felt he understood my doing this. Stories followed him, his work obsession, a software fortune lost in a long, vicious divorce, then fraud trial, his sudden disappearance. I watched him through the night, from my bed to his terrace hammock. I didn't want to regret bringing him home.
Yachts sailed the harbor early. Stiff winds ripped open a sliver of black sky in the red dawn. Now it was widening. As if night had won.
"I saw her," Hugo said watching the street, drinking coffee on my terrace.
"The woman everyone said I didn't see. It was a beautiful day. I went for a run. I thought about you. You just left the company, the country, him. You left it all. I can see you made a better life.
"I was feeling good on the run. Allison and I were working things out. We planned the day together, I took time off work."
Cards printed with bleeding hearts, pierced with arrows dripping blood, lined the holiday parade route. Tied to trees and posts, they came loose, eventually falling with flamboyant flowers that covered everything on the street.
"Running, I found an unconscious woman on the ground. Reception was bad so I ran up a hill to call an ambulance. When I returned the woman was gone.
"I told Allison it took me so long to get back because I had found a woman who disappeared. She laughed at me. I still remember the way she turned over, got out of bed, laughing."
This religious holiday was once a rain ritual involving human sacrifice. For millennia it occurred in nearby jungle filled with carved rock rattlesnakes the size of a curled-up man. I saw the rock snakes in the jungle on my first trip here. When I returned, the sculptures had disappeared. Later I saw them in the capital's museum. So many of them. Immediately real. They seemed more alive in a cold white room than in the jungle. When I returned to the museum to show a friend, I could not find them anywhere.
"The day seemed ruined. Allison was distant again. I drank the rest of the day. Allison had a way of making me doubt myself. I started drinking heavily, other things, drugs. I made bad judgements. I hired employees who embezzled, quit on big contracts. Allison left, divorced me, took over the company. She proved I was incompetent, accused me of fraud. I didn't show up for weeks at work and when I did a guard stopped me. When Allison sold the company I was in jail on fraud charges. My mother died suddenly, my father soon after…
"I drank hard for several years. I was in a bar when a ship came in… something sleek, big crew, big money, just sailing in. Fishermen were laughing and yelling at the women walking down the ramp. Lots of women on a chartered cruise were entering their port, their town. The women were hugging, kissing, in shorts, bathing suits. Fishermen were yelling 'make me captain!' The owner of the boat I was working on pointed. He said he wanted that pair. It was Allison, with the woman I found on my run. They got into a taxi.
"I pulled myself together fast. I borrowed a friend's taxi. The rest of the afternoon I spent watching the luxury hotel beach deck where Allison and the woman were drinking. Bickering, kissing, holding hands. It lasted an eternity of hell. I thought my anger would burn me, just ignite the taxi, or attract lightning. Gone in flames, like that. I thought a lot of things. I remembered a lot more. If I were more drunk I would have gone in, maybe bought them a drink. But…
"Suddenly they were looking for a taxi. I took them back to their ship. Allison got out of the taxi first, not a glance at me. The other woman paid, checking me out, hungry. So I pushed up my dark glasses. She backed out fast. I lived off her look for a long time. It set me free. Like it was my last chance."
Hugo checked sea, jungle and street. Big girls slinking through town in holiday dresses, red lips, holding hands with little girls carrying the chicken home for dinner. Tourists at cafe tables drinking breakfast beers, waiting to record the procession with small devices in big white hands. Little boys racing all over. Men talking outside the bar. Nuns crossing the graveyard to the church square. Women stopped in the bakery door, blocked by a boy pulling a horse spooked by the cards snapping and whistling in high wind. The balloon man twisted a jaguar from a balloon, enigmatic screeching from the felt tip marker across taut latex leaving hieroglyphic spots, teeth, bloody claws.
Thunder purred in liver-colored clouds. Flashes of light snapped far out to sea. Something seemed broken, beyond repair.
Hugo sat across from me on my bed cleaning his sunglasses with a pale blue handkerchief. He looked straight in my eyes searching for something. I guess he didn't find it. He put his sunglasses back on and crossed the terrace.
"I had a nice little place on the hill, good food, surf. I was usually broke, but occasionally I worked fishing charters that paid well. And I could always find someone to buy drinks. I spent a lot of time doing that. Sometimes I fixed computers and made easy money. Eventually a man hired me as his personal assistant."
"My new employer sold weapons. He rented guards he trained himself. He was a fitness freak. I cut back on my drinking. He had a father high up in government. He liked me, I set up his computer system, kept account books for him, made arrangements. He didn't like hot-heads, complainers, whiners, he liked to settle things fast. We learned a lot from each other. I trained early in the morning with the guards in the camp. It cooled me off. We listened to music, played chess, I showed him how to surf, we went fishing, he showed me how to hunt. Sometimes we ran barefoot on the coast, sleeping out with nothing but knives. He read Hemingway in English, and asked me about many things. He told me interesting things I found useful later. I learned Allison was building a big house here.
"His father died, he had a strained relationship with him. We got drunk after the funeral and he said he wished he had a last chance to tell him that he loved him. He was a mess. I confided in him, told him what I'm telling you now. He said I should stalk Allison like an animal, scare the hell out of her, let her live in fear. It's better."
I followed Hugo's scan from sea to beach to street and graveyard jungle. I tripped on a chair, dizzy from light changes. Hugo was suddenly at the far edge of the terrace watching a group of people. They were walking down the alley past relic stalls, festival booths, stopping to ask questions, to take photographs, picking things up to look at them. But not for long. Hugo let out a sharp whistle, piercing, like he was calling a dog. Everyone on the street looked up. But they could not see through the tree branches over my terrace. A woman turned her head around and around. She looked to the group behind her. She threw herself in the shadows of the church against the wall, melted into a grotesque posture, with panicked face. Hugo looked over the terrace into the street. Without looking at me, he picked up his jacket and walked out.
(First published by A Twist of Noir)