It’s funny, no matter how similar swim wear is all over the western world, it’s still so easy to know roughly where tourists come from long before they ever open their mouths. It’s not the look. It’s the smell. Every American sunblock brand gives their lotion this artificial, coconutty, tropical scent. A scent no one living in the tropics actually smells like; unless they work on a fruit market or something. Its a scent that people who have never been to the tropics before, imagine what the tropics would smell like. And then they all huddle together in a resort, where half the people are wearing this same sunblock that rubs off all over the place, so the whole resort reeks of it. Voila; a self-fulfilling prophecy. To a lot of people the tropics smell like American brand sunblock. In contrast, European sunblock brands don’t do the tropical thing. They mostly smell like zinc ointment. While it’s a less intrusive scent, it marks them just as clearly as the American brands do. Judging by the brightly red colored skin all over the place, neither American nor European brand sunblocks work as advertised.
Janet sighs and shifts in the overstuffed lobby chair. She has already gone through the check-in ritual, but the room isn’t ready yet. The general manager has handed her a sort of pager which they will call the moment house keeping is done. The thing looks like something straight out of Star Trek — the one from the sixties; unnecessary bulky, weird angles and curves, tacky silver finish and a plate of clear plastic about the size of a credit card bolted on top that serves no clear purpose aside from making the thing even uglier. It’s supposed to light up, beep and vibrate when called, but the damned thing has been silent for the last two hours. Janet is starting to wonder if it works at all. She wants to go back to the check-in counter to complain, but she doesn’t want to leave her bags unattended. She can’t really take the bags with her to the counter. People are leaving suitcases and bags in little clusters all over the lobby. Being the only one to drag them with her would look weird. Suspicious even. And she can’t have that. That means she waits. She sighs again and resumes her people-watching.
A man in a hotel uniform has been smiling at her each time she glances his way. A busboy? Security? Combination of the two? Janet decides it doesn’t matter, she has drawn attention to herself and that’s not a good thing. She smiles back and gives a little nod. Hopefully that will get the guy off her case and…Oh, no. Fuck. He’s coming over.
“It’s taking long, isn’t it?”
No shit, Sherlock. “Yeah. It must be busy in the hotel.” Janet responds sweetly.
“What room number are you waiting for? I’ll go see if they are done yet.”
“Oh, that would be great. I’m in 217.” She shows the number stenciled on the pager for confirmation.
“Okay,” the man flashes what looked like a genuine smile. “Oh, one more thing, do you drink red or white wine?”
The question takes Janet by surprise. Is she being hit on? “Um, white?”
The man gives her a thumbs up and walks off again. Ten minutes later her Star Trek pager starts flashing. Janet picks up her bags and heads over to the counter to get her key.
Key is a big word for the little plastic card they give her. Janet dislikes the damned things. It always takes her a minute of fidgeting and inserting the card a couple of times before the damned strip is read and the lock opens. She is already bracing herself for the frustration. But when she gets to the door, Janet is surprised to see there is no slot for the card in the mechanism. So how does she… Ah, simply wave the card in front of the lock and it turns green. That is a huge improvement.
Inside she finds a bottle of white wine on the small dining table, complete with a bow and a “enjoy your stay” card. Janet smiles. That makes the man in the lobby part of the hospitality team, there to make sure no one is writing up bad reviews online, no doubt. She appreciates the wine. Too bad the effect is somewhat diminished by the two wine glasses they put out with it. Of course she can’t really blame anyone for assuming she wouldn’t be drinking alone.
She throws her bag on the bed. There’s no bounce, nor does the bag sink in. Ugh. Hotel beds. They are really only good for one thing, and sleeping isn’t it. Janet pulls open the closet door. As promised there’s a safe in there and luckily it’s a pretty big safe. Still nervous and working quickly she gets the big tin of coffee out of her bag and rips off the seal. The coffee still smells like fresh coffee, even after being opened and resealed. Maybe the coffee had been no factor in getting her through customs safely — it was something she had picked up from the movies after all. Beverly Hills Cop of all things. But she made it through, and with any luck she would be a whole lot richer soon and enjoy a free vacation on top of it all.
Janet sticks her had in the coffee. After a bit of digging she pulls out a package the size of a brick and sticks it in the hotel safe. Right. Now all she had to do was wait for her contact. The best place to wait, she decides, is at the pool. She quickly changes into her bikini and heads to the kiosk where hotel guest can trade a little card for a beach towel.
While the pool can’t be called busy, it isn’t quiet either. There are quite a few families staying in the hotel, with kids of all age ranges. Janet notices the Jacuzzi is still unused. It’s a nice spot to keep an eye on her surroundings. It’s only when she slips into the heated water, that she realizes how tense she has been. She slowly lets her body relax, aided by the bubbling water. The smell of chemicals manages to drown out the ever present coconut sunblock. Janet doesn’t want to dwell on the amount of bacteria that must be thriving in the hot water, despite the pool boy’s best effort at chemical warfare against them. As long as she keeps the liquid away from her face and ears, she should be all right. As a distraction she observes her fellow hotel guests.
At the far end of the pool a group of fuckbois are cooling off. Everyone even vaguely familiar with the fuckboi phenomenon would have them pegged as such. It’s not just the hair cuts shaved high on all sides with the front combed back. Nor is it the ultra dark sunglasses. Both of those can be seen around the beach and hotel without the owner having that distinct fuckboi vibe. It’s the anxiety that radiates off them. That painful insecurity about their sexuality, that every minute of every day is spend trying to assure each other, and themselves, how much they love women. It’s the way they cluster together, but at the same time stay at least two arm lengths away from each other. Lest a flailing limb accidentally brush a groin underwater. Can’t have a vacation ruined by the inevitable homoerotic tension resulting from such a touch.
Closer to Janet, a family of three is playing pool volley at the net hung between two palm trees. It is clear that mom is putting up a good fight against the forces of time, but it has probably been a while since she was able to win any sort of game against her boys. She has her technique down and a pretty nice serve, she just isn’t diving for the ball with the grace her boys are displaying. The boys seem wholesome, fit and strong teenage boys. Well mannered too, they don’t even swear when they miss the ball. The oldest of her two teens looks to be about nest-leaving age. It must be scaring mom half to death. The younger teen looks to be only just entering the difficult phase. With the competitive edge he’s showing, Janet is sure mom will have her hands full. After about ten minutes of play, they realize they can’t really make it work with three people. They wave and call for someone called Frank to join them.
Hellooooooooooo, uncle Frank, Janet thinks with a grin. That is definitely uncle Frank. There’s no way this man is the husband/dad of the squeaky clean family she has been observing. Frank has a full sleeve tattoo on his right arm and a half sleeve on his left. He’s wearing sport sunglasses with black frame and oil slick lenses. His frame is sporting the sort of muscles that look gained the hard way instead of sculpted in a gym. It’s only the receding hairline that makes him too old to be one of the mom’s sons. Even more interesting, the sun fails to glint off any rings on his hands, no matter how often he raises them in the air.
Janet has to laugh at herself. Has she not just spent a six hour flight promising herself to be done with bad boys? It seems old habits die hard. Uncle Frank reminds her that she’s not out of the woods yet. Her contact should be here any moment.
Just as the tourists mark where they come from, so does her contact mark himself as local. And just like the tourists, the first thing Janet notices is the smell. Not sunblock, but a repulsive cloud of perfume, as if the man bathes in cheap aftershave. Once she gets a little used to the smell she notices the other differences. He’s the only one here who doesn’t immediately remove the t-shirt he’s wearing. He doesn’t have sandals on his feet. And any exposed skin is lacking the red glow of a sunburn. He sees Janet looking at him and strolls over to the Jacuzzi.
“You must be Janet,” he says in fluent but accented English. She nods. “My man Brandon tells me you have a package for me.”
Janet looks the local man over. She is more nervous now than she was waiting in line at customs. Taking the chance of being caught with controlled substances was bad, but inviting a criminal up to her hotel room feels worse. Some of her thoughts must be showing on her face, because the man grins at her. “Don’t worry, baby. I won’t hurt you.”
She doesn’t trust him, but she doesn’t have much choice. “It’s in my room.”
“Well then, let’s go get it.”
Janet wraps herself in a towel and leads the man to her room. She can feel her heart beating in her throat. This is by far the most outlandish thing she’s ever done. She knows one thing for certain, she’ll never be talked into something like this again.
The hallways in are deserted. Janet waves her key card in front of the lock and opens the door. They both step inside.
“Wait here,” she says, while she goes to open the safe in the closet.
“Nice room,” the man says looking around.
“I’ve stayed in worse,” Janet replies. She takes the package out of the safe and hands it over. The man peals back some of the duck-tape wrapped around it to reveal thick, clear plastic containing a white power. “Nice,” he agrees. He simply sticks the brick in one of the pockets of his cargo shorts and pulls out a thick envelope. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
Janet takes the envelope from him and quickly thumbs through the money inside it. A chill starts somewhere in the middle of her chest and seems to spread quickly through the rest of her body. No-no-no-no-no this isn’t right. “Wait,” she says loudly.
The man, who already has his hand on the doorknob looks back with his eyebrows raised. “Is there a problem?”
Janet holds out the envelope in slightly trembling hands. “There’s about five thousand more in here than we agreed upon. What kind of game are you playing?”
“Oh, that’s right,” the man replies as if it completely slipped his mind. “Keep it. Brandon considers it an investment.”
Oh, shit. “No, no,” Janet says shaking her head, “No more…”
“You really gotta take that up with Brandon, baby.” The man grins at her again. Only this time it’s not a very friendly grin any more. “Take care. And remember, if there’s any problems…” he opens the door and steps into the hallway. Right before he closes the door behind him, Janet hears him say: “I know where to find you.”
The implied threat isn’t lost on Janet. Fuck, she screams internally. Fuck, fuck, fuck, how did she let herself get trapped in this situation? She throws the envelope in the safe and slams it shut. She flops on the hotel bed and screams wordless anger, frustration and fear into her pillow. When her throat starts hurting she grabs the bottle of wine from the table. One thing she does not want to be right now, is sober.