The seven of them had gotten three rooms for the night. Oliver and Hunter were sharing one room and the three girls were in another, with the Australians sharing the third. Mia had the keys for their room. It occurred to her she couldn’t remember the last time she’d gotten actual keys and not a plastic card in a hotel. She tried to smile at the thought but instead shuddered at the memory of when the hotel worker had handed her the key and there had been a wet, malarial warmth to his skin.
“Something up with that guy? I mean, I know he probably don’t speak English that well, but he seem off to you?” Hunter said, “You see his eyes? All bloodshot and shit, you think maybe he hitting the-,”
Hunter raised his thumb and forefinger, pinching an imaginary joint, to his lips and inhaled sharply.
“If you lived around here, wouldn’t you?” Elly said.
“We have to get something to eat.” Cathy said.
A sharp whine had entered Cathy’s voice, as it often did when she got tired or fed up. Mia unlocked their room and Cathy melodramatically tossed her things onto one of the beds. There were two sets of bunk beds in the room and not much else.
“All the comforts of home.” Jake said.
All three of the rooms looked exactly the same, bare, wooden floors and peeling grey walls the colour of wet porridge. The bunks were flimsy with metal frames and scratchy, olive blankets. They looked like something from an old Army base, and maybe they were. A small sink took up one corner in each of the rooms.
“It’s kind of a step down.” Mia said.
“It’s only one night.” Oliver said.
After setting their bags down the group talked about where to eat. There hadn’t been much in the way of options that they’d seen on the way there, and even those had looked like they were shut. Peering out the grimy window in their room, Mia got a pretty good view of the low-lying town. None of the houses were over one story. Few lights marked the buildings through the dirty, grey postage stamp of a window and Mia felt desperately unsettled again. Zancudo, the little mountain retreat, was a ghost town. She wasn’t sure she wanted to leave the hotel room again until morning. Cathy and Elly apparently felt the same, with Cathy complaining that back in Macondo they could have just gotten room service.
“The grocery store might have been the only place open, that and that little bar or whatever.” Oliver said, “We’ll go these and find-, something, and bring it back.”
“And booze, we need booze.” Ian said.
“It’s not even late.” Jake said.
“It’s a small town, I grew up in a small town and the whole thing shut for business as soon as the sun went down.” Elly said, “Wasn’t nothing to do.”
“Alright, I guess.” Cathy said, “We’ll wait here for you.”
“I’m going to take a shower.” Elly said.
No one was at the desk again, and no one in the decrepit halls. Oliver and Hunter walked side by side with the two Australians following. The night was cooling even faster as they stepped out on the sidewalk. Few street lamps were working along the main road and they cast only weak, orange spheres of light. Oliver looked around, surprised again by the silence. He was starting to think they were all alone in the little Mexican town when they heard an engine cough and a red pickup truck covered in rust went rumbling past, tools rattling around its bed. Walking past their rental vehicles, Oliver spotted a couple of other people, locals, on the opposite side of the street. He felt relieved until he noticed the way the locals’ glassy stares picked up the light, for a moment making their eyes seem to glow red. Oliver looked away quickly, and shook it off, thinking he was letting his imagination get the better of him.
Music came to them from further down the street, emanating from the corner bar they had noticed earlier. The bar seemed to be mostly underground, with windows set low to the ground and lining the sidewalk. Stairs descended into darkness from the entryway, above which a neon, bottle-shaped sign snapped and crackled. As the four of them passed a couple of Mexican men exited, watching the tourists, and circled around the building as if on a patrol. Both of them were stoop-shouldered and skinny. Jake smiled and nodded at both of them but if either man noticed they showed no sign.
A local man approached as the four guys paused at the next corner. He was croaking so low that Oliver didn’t realise he was speaking to them for a few seconds.
“Girls? Girls?” The man said.
The man was small and hunched, wearing a white suit stained yellow with sweat in several places. The clothes were much too baggy for him, like the man had recently lost a lot of weight or couldn’t afford clothes that fit. His speed surprised Oliver. He jumped when he finally looked around to see the Mexican man’s silver hair and walnut face.
“What?” Oliver said.
“Girls? You want girls?” The Mexican said, “Fuck and-, suck, twenty dollars American. Group sex? Boy-boy-girl? Girl-girl-boy?”
The low light of the street left deep runnels carved into the man’s face. Oliver could barely make out the man’s eyes, which were so bloodshot the parts that should have been white were almost entirely red. He was hit by a wave of disgust, being spoken to by the grubby little pimp in his yellowing suit. Jake and Ian just laughed while Hunter shook his head.
“Nah, man, we good, thanks.” Hunter said.
“Come, much love for you, they love American, tik, suck real good.” The pimp said.
He lifted one gnarled hand and Oliver flinched. Oliver got the feeling that the silver-haired man was mocking them, and he didn’t really care whether the tourists came with him or not. His deeply lined face betrayed nothing but his voice was like the voice of a parrot. When he spoke it was like the man was repeating back phrases he’d been taught without knowing what they meant. Oliver tried to put it down to the Mexican not knowing how to speak English correctly but he still couldn’t shake the sense the man was making fun of them somehow. The thought infuriated and intimidated him.
The pimp seemed to have reached the end of his spiel and he stood there like a broken robot. Feeling more and more uncomfortable by the second, Oliver hurriedly crossed the road with the others. They continued walking toward the lights of the grocery store. When Oliver glanced back he saw the man still watching them, his bloodshot eyes catching the light. They looked like two pennies jammed into the dark cutout of the man’s face.
The four of them disappeared inside the grocery store. After walking down the dark street, the fluorescent lights of the store seemed especially harsh. Heavily barred windows lined the front of the building. The glass was so heavily plastered with stickers and signage that very little light spilled onto the sidewalk outside.
“Sex? Group sex?” Ian said.
“I’ll let you fuck my sister.” Jake affected an exaggerated Speedy Gonzales accent.
The man standing behind the store counter was within earshot of the two Aussies’ racist mocking of the man outside but if he understood any of it he didn’t show it. Oliver couldn’t help notice the clerk was bony and with baggy, ill-fitting clothes, just like the pimp, and his eyes were bloodshot red. The store was square with narrow aisles that contained no sense of organisation, with warm soft drinks next to cheap toilet brush holders, next to sacks of dry goods like beans and rice.
“Come on, grab-, whatever you want to grab and let’s go back to the girls.” Oliver said.
“Girls? Girls?” Ian laughed.
Enjoy? Want to know what happens next? You can find the full novel, ‘Tik’ by Sean E. Britten on Amazon in eBook and paperback form.