Meet Cute #14: The Banker and the Femme Fatale

The hotel clerk didn’t have my reservation. Nor did she have an empty room.

“I am sorry, sir,” she said. “We are completely booked. I am happy to make some phone calls –”

“But it’s high season!” I said. “Everywhere’s booked!”

“Perhaps someone made a cancellation.”

“It’s the snowiest January on the East Coast since 1977,” I said. “No one’s canceling.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not sure what else I can offer you.”

Between us, on the counter, lay a print-out of my worthless reservation. It bobbed in the sea breeze, mocking me.

“Fine,” I growled. “Make the calls.”

I snatched the reservation, blood pressing against the skin of my face. I took a few steps away from the counter to collect myself. I couldn’t bear the clerk’s pleasant countenance any longer.

I heard the voice of Dorothy, my late wife, in my head. Relax, Bill. Getting angry won’t solve anything.

It didn’t help. Since Dorothy had died of lung cancer two months ago, I was nearly always angry. Angrier than ever before. Angrier, even, than when the other partners at my firm had made me enroll in an anger management course that met at a retreat center in the Pennsylvania countryside.

I stood fuming in the pink-tiled lobby. I was on Culebra, a tiny and obscure island off the coast of Puerto Rico, at the peak of high season. The few hotels here booked up months — sometimes years — in advance. I had no hope the clerk would find me another place.

I cursed myself for carrying through on the trip without Dorothy. I’d been regretting coming ever since I stepped off the tiny plane from San Juan. Arriving in a place so sunny and optimistic only made me miss her more. It hadn’t helped that all the half-dozen other people on the plane were couples.

Probably I should just go home. Back to New Jersey, where the slate skies and snow better fit my mood.

“My goodness, how perfectly dreadful,” said a voice from behind me.

I whirled around. A woman about my age stared at me, mouth slightly open, her face a textbook expression of concern. She wore a floral-print wrap around her shoulders and held it closed with one hand.

“I’m sorry,” she went on. “I couldn’t help but overhear what happened.” She had an accent, I realized — British, I thought, or maybe Australian or New Zealander.

Oh, good. A sympathetic and possibly calming female presence. “I know,” I said. “It’s unbelievable. I made this reservation nearly a year ago –”

Her brow tensed. “I was talking about your behavior,” she said.

I stared, tongue-tied, the blood pressing against my face again.

“The idea that Maribel should have purposely eradicated your reservation from her records? Out of some — what? Some personal vendetta against you?”

British, for sure.

I was too stunned to think of a response. “I’m sorry, it’s just — it’s preposterous, that’s all. I’ve been coming to the Casa del Sol for nearly a decade now, and I can assure you they operate at the highest possible level of responsibility and care for their guests –”

“That must be how they lost my reservation,” I interjected.

“It could have been your travel agent. Or some computer error.”

I studied her more closely. She was overweight, though not spectacularly so. Her clothes — loose-fitting, ankle-deep pants in addition to the wrap — seemed selected to give her no shape at all. A floral print, flowy tropical ghost. Her hair rose motionless from her scalp, thin and dyed the color of rust.

“Ma’am, I don’t have the energy to argue with you and look for another place to stay. So back off, why don’t you.”

The clerk — Maribel, I gathered — glanced over at us, a worried expression on her face. She was in the middle of a phone call.

“Anyway, there’s no use putting up a fuss,” my opponent said. “You can stay with me.” She turned to Maribel. “Mari, dear — don’t bother with anymore phone calls.”

“What? No, do bother with them,” I said to Maribel. I let out a dry laugh. “Ma’am — pardon me, but I’m not staying with you.”

Maribel smiled faintly and continued with the call she was on, probably glad to have a reason not to join our insane discussion.

“It’s Louise,” she said. “Louise Deaton. And why on earth wouldn’t you stay with me? I’ve got an extra bed. My goodness, if you’re worried about propriety, we can roll it out onto the sun deck. It never rains, so –”

“I’m going to get my own place. Either here or somewhere else.”

She smiled. “I see you want to continue your blustering,” she said. “When you’re ready, I’m in Room 12. Mari can give you a key.”

She walked away, sandals slapping.

I stood there for a few moment, watching her.

Maribel hung up the phone. She bit her lip. “You are going to stay? With Ms. Deaton?”

“Of course not.”

Maribel’s shoulders fell. “Oh good, sir. Because she did this last year, too. With another man. Oh, not because of a reservation issue. She met him somewhere on the island. He stayed with her and when he left, he seemed a little — crazy.”


“I don’t know exactly the word. Different.”

I looked down the hall where Louise Deaton had disappeared. What kind of woman was bold enough to invite strange men to stay with her in a hotel? What was motive? Seduction? I puffed up a little at that — the idea that she might find me attractive.

And different. I could use different. I could even use crazy.

“The places you just called — they didn’t have a room for me, did they?”

“I’m afraid not, sir.”

“Well — maybe I’ll just go talk to Ms. Deaton a little longer,” I said. “Not to stay, of course. Just to see what she’s like.”

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