By: Ryan Aldred
The hot, humid air wrapped around Victoria Holmes the moment the driver opened her door. She stretched her legs, rose from the chauffeured car, and absently plucked one of her long auburn hairs from her skirt. She wished, not for the first time, that she’d had time to unearth a summer-weight suit before catching the flight late last night. Her driver returned to his seat and cut the engine, spilling silence onto the sleepy side street.
She glanced down the road toward the center of Tamarindo, where the rolling verdant hillside gave way to beach houses and brightly colored hotels, their yards punctuated by massive trees. Across the street, rusted corrugated roofs gave way to towering resorts and half-finished condominiums, framed by the glittering Pacific. Dense foliage hummed, chirped, and chittered. Life atop of life, atop of life.
Victoria allowed herself a small smile. This was the Costa Rica she’d hoped to find, if only . . . She took a deep breath of air scented by salt, earth, and diesel exhaust, covered her dark eyes with a pair of designer sunglasses, and headed up the drab concrete walkway.
A holiday in Costa Rica had been on Victoria’s list for years, but had never quite reached the top. Her friends had always dragged her someplace more exotic or luxurious. But she could already feel there was something here that went beyond infinity pools and corporate cruises.
Not that this trip would be much of a vacation. Even a lawyer of her caliber was unlikely to find time for piña coladas between bail hearings.
Victoria kept a bag packed for such calls, but never thought she would haul it out of the closet on account of dear, sweet, predictable Ben. There may have been a time when his antics seemed certain to land him in prison—or a morgue—but ever since he’d left university, his idea of going off the rails was watching two movies in a single night.
Had it really been more than a decade since them? Ahem . . . since then?
Tamarindo’s police station was a small, squat building, with walls of white painted concrete and the ubiquitous metal roof. The police crest was hand-painted over the door—a shield that featured a hulking police officer with one arm around a pair of expressionless children, set before a lush mountain at sunrise. The station itself looked clean and in good repair, as did the handful of parked white pickup trucks and squad cards with Policia emblazoned on their sides. All good signs.
She swung open the door. The inside looked like any other police station, with a handful of tired-looking officers pecking away at reports on antiquated computers beneath the fizzing glow of fluorescent lights, sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups. But there was a hum to the atmosphere, a speed at which papers were shuffled, a gleam in the eyes of the constables. This was not just another day at the office.
Victoria stepped up to the desk sergeant and handed him a formal request to see her client.
Miguel Valares made his way down the stone path to the beachside café. The raucous shouts from the hotel pool washed over him unnoticed as his eyes flicked from one face to the next. Searching. His hands hung by his sides, palms open. Ready. Years of experience kept that readiness from showing on his face. Better if he didn’t scare away the other diners.
He seated himself away from his fellow patrons, in a chair that gave him a decent view of the beach without forcing him to turn his back to the restaurant. Waiting was the worst part. Particularly for matters that were out of his control. Even the crashing waves and the endless parade of Tamarindo’s most eccentric visitors failed to provide distraction.
He eyed a pack of Camels a few tables over, next to a discarded plate of scrambled eggs. Empty, but for one lone cigarette poking out from the crumpled aluminum wrapper. He hadn’t had one since . . . Well, not for a long time. Not long enough, apparently. Miguel pulled his phone from his pocket and set it on the table, willing it to buzz with an update. No such luck.
He thought back to last night. The beachside bar bathed in revolving blue lights. The crackle of police radios. Ben, slumped in the back of a squad car. And the choice Miguel had made. It had gone against every instinct to leave Ben there and call Victoria instead, but he’d had few options. Even unarmed, Miguel had no doubts about his ability to break open the squad car and disable the handful of Policía Turística on-site. But what then? And at what price?
The waiter cleared the table, scooping up the pack of cigarettes in the process. Miguel breathed a small sigh. He glanced down at his phone once more. Nothing. What was taking so long? The pounding of his heart overtook the rhythmic drumming of the hotel’s samba music. He could feel the darkness creeping up the back of his neck, whispering in his ear. Searching. Ready.
Waiting was the worst part.
Ben Cooper had had his share of hangovers over the years, but this one deserved to be immortalized in poetry. Where lesser ones faded with time, this one was still returning on a winged tequila worm to take him to Hangover Valhalla. Unfortunately, his other senses were now coming into focus, including his sense of smell. His cell reeked of hot sweat, stale beer, and bitter disappointment.
He tried to remember what happened the previous night. His hands were bruised and scraped, and his shirt was speckled with blood. He ran his fingers through his hair and found it caked with sand. The flesh around his right eye was sore to the touch and his nose felt broken. If he was lucky, that meant the blood on his shirt was his own.
So, not wrongfully arrested. He didn’t know whether public intoxication was a crime in Costa Rica, but he must have disturbed the peace. Running his hands through his hair and down his face was disturbing enough.
Miguel would know. Assuming his friend wasn’t lying in the cell next to his.
“Miguel?” Ben asked through the bars.
The dull hum of the fluorescent lights overhead was the only reply.
Ben slumped back on the concrete floor, struggling to remember more of last night. They’d been at the bar, having drinks with . . . what was that guy’s name, Alberto? Antonio? And then . . . and then . . .
Ben remembered the flash of police lights and the overwhelming smell of salt and copper. Oh God, what had he done?
The clack of the lock echoed in his head like a cannon shot. A guard pushed open the door and ushered in a young woman wearing a business suit. If Ben didn’t know better, he would say she looked like—
“Hi, Ben.” She gave him a wan smile. “You look like hell.” Victoria, as ever, was class personified . . . a fashionista’s dream. An errant fleck of seaweed tickled Ben’s nostril.
“Please, make yourself at . . . home.” He gestured to the thin mattress that he had abandoned at some point during the night for the blessed coolness of the concrete floor.
Victoria glanced at the mattress, but remained standing. “Thanks, I’ll pass.”
“What are you doing here?” Was she some sort of withdrawal-induced hallucination?
“Miguel called me,” she explained with a shrug.
Her arrival cleared the fog from a dozen missed engagements. When they graduated—him to IT consulting and her to her father’s law firm—Ben had known his best friend from university would be busy trotting the globe and building her career. It took a few years to realize that meant she’d only be available to meet up between 3:08 and 3:11 p.m. when the moon was waxing gibbous.
Yet here she was. Ben would have to get Miguel a trophy that read “World’s Best Best Man” to thank his Colombian friend for his quick thinking. Except there was no best man, not after what had happened between Ben and Tara Whitmore, his former fiancée. “World’s Best Ex-Best Man” didn’t have quite the same ring to it, somehow.
“He said you needed me to take your case,” Victoria finished.
Case? It couldn’t be as bad as that, could it? “It’s great to see you. It’s been ages. But I’m sure they’ll let me out of here once I sober up and pay the fine.” He fought back against the fear creeping into his voice. “I don’t think Miguel meant for you to fly down from Toronto in the middle of the night . . .”
Victoria took a deep breath. “Ben, you’ve been arrested for murder.”
RUM LUCK (2016)
Sand. Monkeys. Murder. Rum Luck is the story of three friends from Canada who find themselves running a beach bar in Costa Rica, and tangled up in the death of the bar’s former owner. A finalist for the 2015 Unhanged Arthur Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, Rum Luck is the first book in the Bar on a Beach Mystery series.
About the Author
When not writing, Ryan Aldred runs a small Canadian charity that supports education in Afghanistan, Tanzania, Uganda, and other at-risk regions.
Ryan previously worked as a defense analyst and continues to serve as a Sergeant in the Canadian Forces Reserve. Ryan and his family live in beautiful Prince Edward County. He’s never met a beach he doesn’t like.
To learn more visit www.ryanaldred.com.
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