Three Milks

(Shorter Flash version first published in Cheap Pop Lit – July 21, 2015)

The fat European guest was cheating at cards. He kept his Mojito parked on a stack of Euros on the table, the glass sweating the bills in the Cancun sun.

This was the European’s third day in the same spot. No one had luck like that, Juan knew. He always sat facing Palencia, the main building of the Sun Temple Resort. His opponent always faced the ocean. The games lasted for hours.

‘It’s Goldfinger!’ Juan Cruz thought.

Juan’s eyes scanned the upper reaches of the building. On an upper terrace, off-limits to guests, he thought he saw something.

The towels heaped high on Juan’s shoulder earned him the honor ‘Tres Leches’. To the pool staff, he was a walking parfait of cake and whipped crème, ‘Three Milks’, a wildly popular dessert from the kitchens of Sun Temple. Juan worked the largest of Sun Temple’s crystalline pools, though a ‘Tres Leches’ was the lowest honor at the three-acre ‘Big Lagoon’.

The white terry piled on his shoulder, damp with pool water, spilled juices and liquor and beer, the sweat of many races, oils and ointments, and the odd bodily discharge topped sixty pounds. Draped to a foot or so over the top of his head, he was blind to that side. Juan had to negotiate an obstacle course of lounges littered with drinks, tote-bags, electronics, books, sandals and other personal items, respecting both personal property and the danger of his cargo.

Juan was sure-footed from birth. He took pleasure in his skill with the load. The towels were the feathers of the headdress of a Mayan warrior. As each was added, his strengths grew.

Still, it was a battle of many small steps the journey from poolside to the laundry, all the while avoiding the advances and grasps of the fresh-faced American girls, their interminable giggling, their skin dewy as cucumber slices, pinched smiles hiding fortunes in orthodontia.

Juan made his way to the laundry tucked away behind the lagoon’s Wave God Pavilion. The manager, his friend Romina Cordoba, a young woman with long hair and a pretty, open face, held the door for him.

Juan found an open laundry cart, and with a flourish, heaved his load of towels with his familiar quarter-turn leap. The laundry workers looked up, their expressions pleasant, if glum.

Excitedly, he shared the news with his friend.

“I tell you, Ro-Co, he is Goldfinger!

“Juan Cruz! He is not Goldfinger. And Sun Palace is not your…your landscape of international intrigue, this is not some movie set in which we are all actors with you…”

“You smile! I see! You believe me!”  

“I believe you will always be a silly, handsome boy.” Five years his senior, Romina had only recently tired of her own lectures to Juan about his career choices and future, and quit them.

She pinched Juan’s chin lightly and smiled. Nearly inaudibly, the pair shared the secret giggle, a ritual they loved.

After his shift, Juan rode his bicycle well beyond the world of the paying guests to the pleasant low dormitories for employees who preferred to live close to work. His roommate was away. After a cold shower and a meal of beans and rice, Juan called his mother, then watched American cartoons.

Well after sundown he dressed in dark slacks and shirt and rode back to the Resort. Juan sucked a flake of pepper through his teeth: the night would be good. He would be welcome at Palencia, but his movements would be confined to the lobby. Juan used his employee badge to access a short hallway with restrooms used only by employees. A door lock at the end of the hallway yielded easily, and he turned onto a stairway he knew led to the terraces of the roof.

Juan disabled the light alongside an upper terrace door, and slipped silently into the night air.     

He checked the time. The thin face of his fine gold watch, a gift from the new Saudi Foreign Minister, glowed warmly in the moonlight.

He bent down at the spot where he’d seen something, or someone, earlier that day. The finish of the lower railing was freshly scratched, as if a clamp of some sort had been fixed to it, repeatedly it seemed.

Suddenly, something slapped over his head. A towel, by the nap of the terry, from the luxury suites of the resort’s Vivir Grande enclave. As he stood, a massive weight clamped onto his shoulders. He now carried his assailant’s weight on his back.

Juan’s arms were held across his biceps. He spun, and a sharp point pricked his neck through the towel. The heavy embroidery of the ‘VG’ logo had deflected the weapon. Juan Cruz lunged to the railing, pitched his foe over the edge with a quarter-turn leap. He watched the fluttering towel follow the writhing form into the flowerbed three stories below.

Juan was impressed that his opponent had uttered not a sound. Still, he couldn’t help:

“Rookie move, amigo”.

The shadowy shape below rustled among the low canopy of Oleander and Gardenia and finally stood, unsteadily.

A few feet either left or right, and the sharp, dense stands of Agave would have been his attacker’s resting place.

“Rookie move, Juan.”    

Juan’s wound was minor, and was covered by his shirt buttoned tightly as he made his way through Palencia’s lobby. He studied the faces of all he saw all the way to his bike in the employee lot.

On his way to the dorm, the cool night air soothed, and he was able to assemble his thoughts logically: the timeline for this Alert had resolved just that evening. Was this an anomaly or a conclusion Interpol could have anticipated?

It would be important for Juan to appear normal now. He would have no problem with that.

(Graphic by the author)