The spectrum of Cuevones who pass their time here is a measure of the uniqueness of Isla Mujeres as a place to live, vacation, or lam out. One day might bring Slovenian artists, Minnesota tourist families, old salts crazed by sailing over from Cuba in a hurricane, Japanese businessmen, Italian models, French guitarists, fugitives from injustice, misguided writers, or local bricklayers who just want a buzz. A guy who lives in Alaska, works in Antarctica and lives for cribbage. A Burmese couple just checking the maps. A chistoso who plays piano–reggae on the beach, chamber music for a dinner club, then hard rock at night. A Scotch dynamiter who prods everyone in dangerous diving. Ski racer, turned fashion model, turned DJ, turned CPA touring Latino graveyards. Danish writer fresh out of concentration camp. Pervo beach photog. Cute martial artist from Uruguay. Insane Israelis. Grouchy Gringos. Then there’s you.
Seagull, in The Blasé Sojourner.
Curtsy had to martial up a major gut check before marching into Café Cueva. Damned if she go around wearing a shame merit badge for the duration. And of course it was Del who made the first allusion. And somehow that softened the whole thing up, put her back in charge. Must be that famous cockney charm.
She got the owl eye from behind the counter heaped with fresh baked goods and shell jewelry. And all the dripping insinuation he could put into, “Hellooooooooo.”
“Heard you got the tin tack.” With, of course, the Groucho-bouncing eyebrows.
She grabbed the counter copy of Mexican Slang 101 and leaved through it with knitted brow. “Why doesn’t this thing have any of that stupid London gutter slang?”
“The sack, as you yanks would have it.” Del drawled back. “Dropped like a sack of shite, is the implication.”
“Yeah that was pretty much the subtext.”
“And we heard why, as well.” By now the leer was a pronounced as any Japanese demon’s, almost covering over the redeeming twinkle behind it.
Monica turned from the espresso machine and socked her hubby on the shoulder. “Shut up, Del,” she explained. She looked Curtsy towards a seat by the bookshelves and came over with a cup of Americano. And, uncharacteristically, slid into the opposite chair.
“Del’s hardly Mr. Discreet Empathy,” she said softly. “But for guys around here, he’s probably in the top two percent. And all of them know.”
Curtsy nodded glumly and sipped her coffee. With a faint taste of the Almendrado tequila Monica knew she liked.
“Frankly,” the dean of Isla’s baristas went on, “I think they over-reacted. But my point’s this. You know Del and I both like you, but you should consider relocating. Any guy you talk to from now, you can assume he’s some rough beast cruising your reputation. You’re in for a load of chaff and there’s no way you’re going to get another job.”
Curtsy nodded. This whole thing was making her feel better and worse at the same time. Pretty much the story of her whole career on Isla. “I don’t know where I’d go from here. I’m just about broke and Dolphin Dis was my life dream.”
“That’s rough, honey. But you’re never going to get another job in the dive business on this coast.”
Monica stole a look around, Del all wrapped up in serving/ogling a tall black beauty who’d come in for some complicated frappuccino variation. She leaned close and went way sotto voce, far from her usual style. “So, listen… How was it?”
“Just like with men,” Curtsy said quickly. Then gave it a beat and said, “Except they’re clean and you don’t have to listen to them talk shit.”
Monica giggled and started to rise, but the black customer had come over to their table, looming over them like the figurehead of the Narcissus. Saying, “You pretty sure of yourself, there?”
Curtsy and Monica, unsure who was being addressed, gave her nonverbal Huhs? so she hooked her exquisite espadrille from some duty-free in the Outre Mer under a chair rung, hauled it up and slid down into it like the fall of tropic night. And said, “No diving jobs around here, she was saying.”
Curtsy wasn’t in the mood to care who this Beyonce-looking broad was, just shrugged and said, “I’m sure she’s right.”
“Now don’t be so sure of that,” Aphra said, pursing hibiscus lips to waft breath across the surface of her coffee confection. “See that cute little Chinagirl over by the door?”
And sure enough, just inside the door on one of the metal chairs, was a really nice-looking Chinese woman. Del should be more frisky than normal tonight, Monica was thinking, after getting a load of these two. Curtsy just nodded to Aphra, afraid to hope.
“Well she… and I, you understand… are equal opportunity employers.”
Curtsy stared at her a moment, then glanced at Monica, who was beaming. And suddenly the bombproof California girl was back, laughing out of blue skies and slapping Monica a resonant high five.
“We need a diver for a short-term venture. Pays good though. And we’re just loads of fun.”
Del, who’d been following it from behind the counter put in, “Oy go down a bit me ownself. Right conditions and what.”
“Well, they did say short-term,” Monica said, standing and heading over to him. As she passed Curtsy she gave her shoulder a friendly pat.
Aphra, sizing up the blonde diver at close range also felt a strong patting impulse. But all things in their own time, as the Good Ol’ Book puts it. She motioned and MeiMei Chiang got up and headed over with her cup of Earl Grey.
“That’d be the good Doctor Chiang, there,” Aphra nodding her head towards the mayanologist with whom she and her awesome powers of credit were now partners in a fairly nefarious scheme for the ultimate Benefit Of All Concerned. “I’ll let her tell the tale.”
“I’m Curtsy. Which apparently everybody on the island is way too aware of these days.”
MeiMei nodded and sat in the chair Monica had vacated. “And I’m MeiMei. This is Aphra. But before we get into it, I’m supposed to tell you that Puch Pop misses you and sends his wishes.”
Curtsy stared at her.
“And from what I saw, I’d say you should take it to heart.”