Red Tide

Craig and Darla Adams drove from California to Arizona, then slipped across the border into Mexico. Their escape route had been nightmarish under a pissing rain that wouldn’t let up until they left America.

After reaching the decaying coastal hotel eighty miles south of the border, they waited inside a stolen Volvo in the parking area as night descended. Dry as a bone but dark clouds massed overhead.

Nothing made sense.

“Are the others coming?” Darla snuggled closer.

“Uh, Blaisdell got hit during the job…”

“Will he recover?”

“Nope.”

“And the Professor?”

“You were supposed to convince him to stay up north.”

“I did my best.” Darla squirmed, remembering the vile things the Professor made her do. “But you gave him his share, or something, for planning it, right?”

Craig nodded. “He got what was coming to him.”

“Shouldn’t we go inside?”

“Just making sure no one trailed us, and no one’s here expecting us.”

Cars sat parked around them, but it was off season. Most windows on the three-story stucco hotel remained dark. Palm tree fronds rustled in the sea breeze.

“Lock the doors while I check the office.”

“This place is spooky. Don’t leave me, Craig. I just couldn’t…”

“Ditch you, the money, and the car? C’mon, Babe. Get a grip.”

The lobby held a yellowy glow from the dim light fixtures and smelled like a wet animal. The moldering furniture and carpeting were relics of a previous century. Traditional festive Mexican music played in the distance.

“Victor?” Craig said to his old friend at the check-in desk. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes, Mister Craig.” The manager appeared pale and sweaty. “Did your wife, uh, make it?”

Craig chuckled. “Of course.” He signaled Darla from the foyer to join them. “But Victor, you don’t look well.”

“It is the cold weather and this red tide. That stink of algae. Maybe I’m allergic.” He forced a sick smile.

Craig handed the money briefcase over. “Just for a week until we can head south.”

“Of course.” Victor locked it within an oven-sized safe in the back room. He showed them the combination. “Only we three know.” Victor patted his bulging belly. “And I am not going anywhere.”

*

In normal conditions, their room would have been perfect for Darla. Third floor with a balcony facing west over the ocean. But tonight, the wind and crashing surf brought her no comfort. The lumpy mattress groaned under her sprawled body as she studied Craig.

“Anything wrong?”

“Two cars outside had California plates,” Craig replied. “Could be tourists, or might spell trouble.”

Darla did her best not to be trouble. Years ago, they owned a dog named Mustard. One day, after Craig noticed the first signs of dysplasia, he drove off with Mustard. When his car returned, Craig got out alone.

Craig doused the lights before patrolling their balcony in the drizzle. “Crouch down and come here.”

Darla crawled over. High tide surged against the breakwall and a stagnant odor of seaweed and algae rose in the night air. As her eyes adjusted, she saw the crescent of beach curve outward on either side of the hotel.

Craig pointed toward guest bungalows on their left and right. In front of one, a hunched man smoked a cigarette. Near the other, a tall man paced, staring at the sea.

“Who are they?” Darla whispered back inside.

“Blaisdell’s friend, Fenshawe. Probably wants his cut.” Craig palmed his damp hair back. “Think I remember the second guy playing poker at the Professor’s house.” Craig grabbed the room phone. “Victor. Those men outside… Uh-huh, okay.” He joined Darla on the carpet. “Victor knows. He locked all doors and windows. We’re safe, as long as we sit tight. One of us will keep watch.”

“Victor gave them bungalows?”

“No. His cousin Edgar works the day shift. Didn’t know who they were and checked them in.” Craig squeezed her shoulder. “Don’t worry. We’ll keep the lights off, order room service.”

“And our car?”

“Arizona plates. Not registered to me.”

Darla kissed his neck, then his cheek.

“Not now. Got to stay focused.”

Darla wanted to make love, to soften Craig’s grim expression. Above all, to prove useful. During their five-year marriage, several of Craig’s unhelpful male partners had died abruptly or been jailed.

“I can’t last a week here doing nothing.” Darla instantly regretted her words.

“Really?” Craig squinted, lines forming on his brow.

How many times a day did he consider her value or weigh her baggage?

Craig checked his gun’s clip. “Get some rest, darling, and spell me at dawn.”

*

Before 6 a.m., the sun hadn’t risen but a spitting rain continued. Craig scoped the balcony and hallway. All clear.

Darla padded out of the bathroom. “Before you sleep, can we get breakfast? Haven’t eaten in twelve hours. Maybe longer.”

“Victor?” Craig said into the phone.

“No, this is Edgar.”

“May I speak to your cousin?”

“Victor, he is very sick,” Edgar said. “He eat the shellfish, you know. Not good during the red tide. He is resting now.”

“Can we order breakfast?”

“Of course,” Edgar said. “But prices went up. It’s ten thousand a day for lodging and food, and most important, for your protection. I think the men outside very much wish to see you, senor.”

Craig contained his rage. “Bring breakfast, Edgar, and we’ll discuss terms.” He hung up, tucking a hunting knife into his boot.

“You don’t plan to kill—”

“Incapacitate,” Craig said and smiled death.

*

Darla heard the knock. “Come in.”

Craig waited in darkness.

Their door creaked open and a cart wheeled inside, the tall man pushing it. Darla watched Craig sneak up behind, bending the man’s head back until his neck snapped. Craig dragged the thug out to fold him over the balcony railing.

Fenshawe came and piled on them. Darla joined in. Craig brandished his knife, slashing the air wildly, but Fenshawe took it away and lodged the blade in Craig’s chest.

“No!” Darla screamed and threw her weight against Fenshawe to launch him off the balcony. But he wedged against the others. The flimsy railing buckled, sending the three men plummeting.

Craig and the tall man lay bunched together, motionless in the surf. Fenshawe landed head first on a jagged boulder.

Darla froze for a moment, disoriented, before bolting downstairs. Craig would want her to retrieve the money, whether he was alive or…

“Senora?” Edgar stood sleepy at the check-in desk. “You are, leaving?”

She swayed close and smiled. “We can split it.” Darla leaned over the counter, her chest pressing against Edgar.

“Well, maybe,” Edgar said, reaching a tentative hand to caress her. “I guess, okay.” He barely noticed Darla’s syringe needle jab into his skin. Edgar attempted to strangle her, but his fingers trembled and soon fell away with him to the carpet.

After dialing the safe’s combination, Darla found Victor balled-up inside, greenish and goggle-eyed. She ransacked the back office, scooping up fifty thousand into a nylon bag. They had brought five hundred large though.

Footsteps sounded from the north wing. Who else was staying here?

Darla dashed across the lobby outside to the slim beach and endless ocean illuminated by the colors of dawn. A gray-haired man wearing a sports jacket stood watching on the southern bluff. The Professor. Darla choked back vomit remembering the night they’d spent together. That disgusting old pervert. Craig hadn’t dealt with him. At least not permanently.

Darla bled from her side, a result of the scuffle upstairs. She splashed through the shallows, heading toward the parking lot, toward California. Something caught her leg. She toppled into the thick red tide, landing atop the lifeless, tall assailant. Craig’s stiff fingers clutched her ankle, his once handsome face submerged and turned ghastly in death. Darla’s bag tore open and waves floated hundred-dollar bills on their foamy swells.

The rest of Darla’s life would involve running, squalor, imprisonment, pain. Or she could relax and let the swollen tide carry her out to sea.

Darla recalled their Las Vegas wedding day. “Till death do us part,” she told Craig.

Her husband laughed. “Not even then, Babe.”

#

author bio:

Max Talley was born in New York City and currently lives in Southern California. His novel, Yesterday We Forget Tomorrow, was published in 2014. Talley’s short fiction has appeared in Gold Man Review, Fiction Southeast, Del Sol Review, Hofstra University – Windmill, The Opiate, and Thoughtful Dog. He is a contributing editor to Luna Review.