The ocean waves wafted the wet scent of salt water through the warm island air. I exited the yellow cab. I paid the driver, tipped him well, and walked from under the porte cochère toward the hotel lobby. My rolling suitcase bumped and jostled about as it attempted to navigate the uneven, polished stone sidewalk. Unusually large gaps spanned walkway’s component slabs.
The bright sunshine diminished as a mass of dark clouds rolled across the sky. A single raindrop stained my left shoe.
“Comment puis-je vous aider, monsieur?” the front desk attendant said.
“Parlez vous anglais?” I asked.
“Of course, sir. My name is Étienne. Welcome to Hotel du Bout. Do you have a reservation?”
“Yes. Sharpe. Malcolm P. Sharpe.”
Étienne shuffled away from the front desk towards a long table behind his station. The table held a variety of key cards and check-in matters. After a few seconds, his crisp professional demeanor crumbled into a slouch. He rubbed the back of his neck, exhaled in a huff, and returned to the front desk.
“Monsieur . . . my apologies, but, it appears there has been a mistake with your reservation.”
“Mistake? What kind of mistake?” I said.
“Well, it seems that our broker double booked your suite.”
“Oh, ok, well I’ll take another room then.”
“That’s the problem, monsieur, we are completely booked.”
“Well, I guess—“
A thunderclap roared through the lobby. The sky cast dark sheets of rain on and around the Hotel du Bout.
“Monsieur, I do not advise going outside. The weather in Martinique is quite unpredictable. The storm may pass, but during this time of year, the rain comes on quick and can last for days.”
“Can I sit in the lobby until it passes?”
“No. You can go directly to your room. Here is your key. It’s suite 203.”
“I thought you said the suite was double booked.”
“Oui, oui, monsieur. Mr. Green, the gentleman occupying the suite, has authorized me to allow you to share it with him. The suite is large and has plenty of room.”
“Plenty of room?” I asked. I dug my fingernails into my palms.
“Monsieur, I understand your disappointment, but, s’il vous plait, we are happy to comp your stay.”
“But I already paid online through Travel King.”
“Oh, then, monsieur, I am sorry but we cannot refund your money.”
I exhaled. “It’s OK, I’ll take the key.”
After the nutso month I had at Inglethorpe & Cavendish, a bargain box last minute trip to Martinique seemed like a good idea. It was only $300 for roundtrip airfare and a three night stay at Hotel du Bout. Yes, the beach location was exotic and the hotel was luxurious, but all I really wanted was some peace and quiet.
I fumbled the key card out of my pocket and over the door sensor. The light remained red and the door made a sound of rejection. On the other side of the door, I heard someone approaching with heavy bare feet.
“You must be Malcolm!” a large, disheveled man said. “I’m Nate. Nate Green. C’mon in!”
Nate swept his hands in a welcoming motion and grabbed my suitcase, but not by its handle or its rolling mechanism. He grabbed it by its side grip and jerked it into the room, having no regard for its ergonomic design.
“Make yourself at home,” he said. “I took the master. Hope that’s OK.”
Nate had also invaded the kitchen, the dining area, and living room. His groceries and a half eaten cold pizza cluttered the kitchen counters. A newspaper, eviscerated of coupons, was strewn about the dining table. Seven cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon had been emptied into Nate’s belly and found their final resting place on the coffee table in front of the TV.
Nate cracked open his eighth Pabst. “Wanna beer?” he asked.
“No, thank you.”
“How ‘bout a line?” Nate motioned to a mirror on the dining room table, partially obscured by newspapers. A razor blade rested on the mirror’s face. White residue peppered the mirror.
“No, thank you.”
“More for me, ha ha.”
Nate emptied the beer into his belly and moved toward the dining room table. He poured some powder from a baggie on to the mirror and began chopping it with the razor.
“So, what do you do Malcolm?” Nate snorted a line of the powder.
“I’m a lawyer.”
Nate stopped and began blinking rapidly.
“Are you going to arrest me!?” he whispered.
“No, I’m not a police officer. I’m a real estate attorney. I have no authority to arrest you. But if you’re buying real estate in North Carolina, I’m happy to advise your purchase.”
Nate’s posture relaxed. He snorted another line.
“North Carolina. Yeah, both of my brothers went to rehab in North Carolina.”
I rubbed my hand over my bald head, scanned the cluttered suite for where Nate had thrown my suitcase, and went to retrieve it.
“Dang, Malcolm, where did you get that scar? It covers the entire back of your head!”
“It’s a long story.”
“Go ahead. We ain’t going anywhere.” Thunder rumbled.
“I’d rather not. If it’s all the same to you Nate, I’d like to retire to my room and read for a bit.”
“Oh, ok, no problem.”
“Thank you for being accommodating.”
Nate snorted. “Yeah, some Travel King . . . Say, what are you reading?”
“It’s a mystery novel—The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.”
“Ooo. My first ex-wife loved reading Agatha Christie. That’s a good one. The narrator did it.”
I clenched my teeth.
“Oh, shit, I’m sorry. The book’s like 100 years old. Everybody knows the narrator did it," Nate said.
My heart beat returned to normal.
“It’s OK, Nate. Listen, I’m here for some R&R and I can’t get another hotel room at the moment. I am grateful for your generosity, but please, Nate, I would like to retire and take a nap.”
“Sure thing. Sorry, man.”
I retreated to the second bedroom, shut the door, and lay down on the bed. The rain lulled me to sleep. I dreamed of my date with TK from a few weeks ago. We sat in Raphael’s for lunch. She told me how much she was enjoying reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Then, I said, “You know the narrator did it.” She stood up from the table, looked me in the eye, and shouted, “Where’s your wallet, Malcolm!?” Then, she walked out into the thunder, lightning, and rain that trounced Elm Street.
A thunderclap shook me awake.
Nate was standing over me. He had taken my wallet out of my front pocket and was taking money from my billfold.
Lightning light cracked through the room. We looked each other straight in the eyes. I lowered my eyebrows, pinched them together, and narrowed my eyes. Nate’s eyes widened to twice their normal size. Nate darted from the room.
I jumped up from the bed and turned on the light switch. No lights. No power.
I ran out into the living room. I tripped in the dark.
Light flashed through the room. Nate was on the floor. The power came back on. He was convulsing wildly and foaming at the mouth. I ran into the kitchen. The lights flickered and I found my way to a drawer. Silverware. No good. I went to the second drawer and found what I was looking for. I carried a wooden spoon back to Nate and crammed it into his mouth so he wouldn’t bite off his tongue.
The tendons in Nate’s neck bulged through layers of neck fat. Tears welled in his eyes. He stopped shaking. The $500 he took from me fell away from his clenched hand. He spat the wooden spoon from his mouth.
“Help me,” he whispered.
I brought him one of the courtesy water bottles from the fridge. He sat up, drank the water, and then lay back down on the ground. Soon enough, he began snoring. I didn’t even attempt to lift his massive frame from the floor. Instead, I grabbed a comforter off of the bed in the master bedroom and covered him with it.
The power flickered once more and then returned. I tidied up the hotel suite, throwing out the left over food, recycling the newspapers and beer cans, and straightening up from Nate’s rampage.
The rain stopped and the sun returned. Nate snored in the embrace of the down comforter. I turned off the lights and walked out to the beach.
Debris from the exhausted palm trees cluttered the access path. I stepped over what detritus I could. As I walked on the shore, the blonde beach sand slowly returned to white. Seagulls screamed in the distance. After a mile or so, I turned back toward Hotel du Bout. As I walked closer to the hotel, the smell of deep fried food reeled me in.
Before grabbing dinner at Cafe du Bout, I stopped by the room to check on Nate. The comforter lay strewn about on the floor. Nate was gone.
For the rest of my time at the Hotel du Bout, I never saw Nate again. I wondered if he checked himself into a local hospital. Or, maybe when he returned to the States, he decided to go to that rehab in North Carolina where his brothers got clean. But really, what happens to someone like Nate is he’ll roar like a storm through the lives of the people closest to him. He’ll push everyone who cares about him so far away that, eventually, he’ll have nowhere to go, nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. He’ll end up being a John Doe, dead in a ditch somewhere and nobody will give a shit.
I pulled my sobriety token from my pocket and gasped it tightly.