They were in the wrong part of town at night. In a wood, a dingy confined space of a place well away from the bright lights, the security of the tourist strip, the hawkers and touts, bars, and a policeman. A low beat of perpetual reggae throbbed dimly through the fragrant miasma that clung to the low ceiling. The only lighting came from a triple series of ancient disco lights which suffused the smoky haze with alternate blushes of colour.
Red Stripe and rum bottles littered the scarred and stained plank that served as a bar counter, while a scarred and stained man wearing a ratty sleeveless vest served up replacement beverages from a fridge that seen neither cloth nor disinfectant for a decade or more. The girl sat on a plastic chair, knees together, head bowed, hands folded in her lap as though at prayer. A sweating bottle of Red Stripe sat in a saucer-sized pool of water, almost untouched in front of her.
Dutch blonde and pretty she kept her blue eyes focused on the bottle's peeling label while her husband of two days surveyed the bar with an outward show of calm confidence he didn't feel. The girl's eyes flicked sideways, which had been her only physical movement for a full three minutes. Out of the corner of her mouth she muttered: 'I didn't expect this. When he said a bar, I thought he meant one on the strip. Not this ...' Her head jerked, the meaning clear: Where are we? How are we going to get out of here? ...
Alive. Everything about her, her posture, her gaze locked on the bottle on the plastic picnic table, immobility -- if she just stayed still, didn't move, ignored everything around her then it would all just go away -- screamed fear. She added: 'It all seemed like a good idea at the pool. Now look at us.'
Anxiety squeezed the man's chest. What was she complaining about? It was her idea. The guy had approached them as they lay next to the pool, secure inside the hotel complex. Gold-toothed charm, a woollen tea-cosy hat bulging with dreads, and a typically laid-back air, he'd convinced the honeymooners to come out to a local joint he knew. 'Away from the expensive places,' he'd drawled, toning down the patois for their unaccustomed ears. 'The tourist places ...' He sucked air through his teeth and shook his head.
'Sky high prices.' The gold eye tooth glinted in the sun as he smiled. They arranged a time, and here they were after a giddying, circuitous, and disorientating jalopy ride, afraid and confused in some local she been. Their guide, following a brief discourse with a group of locals at the bar, explained he'd be away for a few minutes and left.
'A couple of beers,' her husband assured her, his voice low, beneath the bass thump from the speakers. 'Then, if Linus doesn't come back we'll just ask for a lift back to the strip.' He shrugged and offered a tentative, nervous smile. 'Or maybe they'll call us a cab,' he added hopefully. The girl's head swivelled slowly. She regarded her husband, face pinched with concern. 'They look like Criminals,' she hissed.
'I'm sure they're not gangsters,' the man replied.
'They look fucking dangerous, Daniel.' His wife's terse response surprised him. She wasn't given to profanity. He wondered how badly she'd been upset by this excursion.
Three men dressed in faded jeans and vests of various colours stood at the bar, elbows on the counter, backs to the nervous couple. Two of them held burning cigarettes that gave off a pungent, suspect odour, the smoke rising to the low ceiling, thickening the blanket of fugue overhead. The three were all youngish, mid-twenties, athletically muscular, two of whom sported the ubiquitous dreadlocks while the other wore his hair short.
One of them, the close-shorn one, turned to regard the pair briefly. A conspiratorial chuckle came from the other two after some mumbled comment. The man detached himself from what was obviously his habitual position, biceps bulging, triceps tensing as he pushed his angled torso away from the bar.
'Evening,' he grinned, eyes all over the girl's body after sauntering slide-footed and insouciant to the table.
The woman tensed, sensing his appraisal rather than seeing. She kept her eyes on the bottle in front of her. Her husband returned a timid hello, his eyes sliding over the other man's grinning face, seeing the challenge there but powerless to react. He ignored the blatant assessment of his wife's décolletage. Now wasn't the time to play the knight in shining armour.
The man loomed over the couple, dark-skinned and rangy, unsettling the pale-skinned visitors, his smile sinister despite its breadth. 'We don't get many tourists in here,' he offered ambiguously in what could be either comment or threat. The girl said nothing while her husband, equally silent, blinked quickly several times at this opening gambit. 'Uh ...' he began. 'It was recommended by Linus.' He used the name in the hope of a positive response. This didn't feel good at all. If he could engender some favour by dropping a familiar name all to the good.
The man's response remained ambiguous. 'Yeah,' he said, his gaze fixed on the woman. Then, suddenly, he turned his attention to the nervous man seated. 'We don't get many white people in here at all ... ever ...' He smirked, adding: 'And we never get pretty white girls payin' us no visits.'
'We just got married,' the husband blurted. 'Two days ago.'
The man's smile widened. He turned to his companions at the bar, both of whom were leaning on one elbow, watching the scene unfold. 'Got a pair of honeymooners,' he called. The barman slopped a desultory cloth over the counter and made no comment. One of his customers spoke, the one in the green vest. 'Calls for a celebration,' he said, 'bottle of rum.' This last was offered to the man behind the bar, who ceased his slovenly ministrations and bent forward to lift a bottle from under the counter.
'Oh, no, that isn't necessary,' the husband began. 'Linus should be back soon,' he suggested, more than a little hopefully. 'And we really don't drink spirits ...'
'Just a little drink to celebrate,' Green Vest said. 'Linus said he'd be a half hour ... maybe a little more. He's on an errand for me.' He grabbed the bottle by its neck and ambled to the table. 'Just a drop,' he finished. The third man brought five more bottles of beer, while the barman delivered glasses, carrying his cargo one-handed on a tray.
Chairs scraped through the dust on the wooden floor, bottles slammed onto the table top. Daniel suddenly found himself positioned on the periphery of the group, with his wife, as the focal point, flanked either side by the two long-haired locals, the man with short hair interposed between Daniel and the main group.
'You're a mighty lucky man,' the short-haired one said, leering sideways at Daniel. 'That's a very pretty young woman you got yourself.' He nodded appreciatively. 'sweet,' he added.
The woman stared at her husband, her eyes beseeching. She could feel the heat coming from the two men positioned so closely at her sides, could smell their bodies. Inwardly cursing her trembling hand she picked up the bottle which had held her attention for so long. She swigged deeply, chugging half the contents in one go. 'Cuh ... could you call a taxi,' she stammered. 'Please. I'd like to leave now. Daniel, could you ask for a phone to call a cab?'
The man to her left spoke, the one in the green vest, the one who'd suggested the rum. 'Hey,' he said softly, shaking his head, lips pursed. 'No need to run away,' he purred, voice like silk, smile like a tiger's. 'We just wanna celebrate with you. Toast your good fortune.' His eyes slithered across the woman's chest. 'Toast your husband's luck.' He leered at the young woman. 'Lucky fellah,' he said. 'What you say, Danny? You gonna take a little drink with us? Your new friends here.'
Daniel vacillated, sensing that to refuse might invite an angry response. 'Uh,' he said, 'I don't suppose ...' He looked at his wife, willed her to understand. 'Just one drink?' he suggested, his smile tepid. Rum was poured and glasses chinked. 'Cheers,' Green Vest said, grinning his huge grin, obviously the leader of the group. The girl demurred. 'No, thank you,' she said, seething inside and silently cursing her husband. 'I don't like rum.' She tilted the beer bottle against her lips and drained it. Then, the empty bottle banging the table like a gavel, she lifted her second. 'Cheers,' she toasted through clenched teeth, her eyes flashing fire towards Daniel.
'Rum,' the short-haired man suggested, pouring generous measures into four glasses without waiting for any motion of acceptance from Daniel.
Watching her husband, the new Mrs wife felt humiliation and anger corrode her guts. He should have refused, she thought. He should have acted when I told him to call a cab. These men are taking the piss and he's just going along with it. She burned with indignation. I should've insisted, she reasoned. Stood my ground, made my point and demanded to leave. Clara chided herself: I should have stood up and just left. This is getting stupid now. Look at him sucking up to these black fuckers.
She began to question her husband's courage. From his sidelined position on the left wing, Daniel considered the options. Clara was obviously fuming, but she didn't understand, if this went wrong it would be he who would get the kicking. Maybe worse, these boys could have knives or guns ... Who knew where this could go if he showed a lack of respect. No, he reasoned, best to ride it out. Have a few drinks, act all friendly, leave with all his teeth intact. Who cared about dignity?
He then made the fatal error of leaving his wife alone with the men. 'Where's the toilet?' he asked. Clara, mouth hanging in surprise, with Bob Marley wailing about no woman no cry in the background, predators all around, watched her husband leave the bar. What was he thinking leaving her alone with ... them?
'Are you afraid of us?' Green Vest asked.
Clara considered the question. The blaze of anger had cooled to a ball of fear in the pit of her stomach. 'A little,' she admitted, nodding, her eyes lifting to regard the man face-to-face.
'We's just messin' with you,' Green Vest relented. 'Just a little joke.'
'It isn't funny,' Clara returned.
'We do it from time to time. Get Linus to trawl the hotels an' pick out some likely prospects. We gets a bottle of rum or two outta tourists, they leave some cash, fifty dollars or whatever for a cab ride back to the lights.' The man grinned at Clara. 'Linus picked you guys 'cos he thought you wuz hot stuff.'
Through gritted teeth - the gall of the man - Clara said: 'I'm so fucking flattered.'
'That husband of yours ...' Green Vest's dreadlocks swayed with the jerk of his head '... he don't seem to be paying you much respect.' Clara noticed the man's eyes fill with scorn. 'He knows you wanna leave, but he's too scared to act.' He nodded again, sucking air through his teeth, a signal of contempt.
'You don't show much respect either,' Clara retorted, eyes flashing. She swigged her beer, staring a challenge into Green Vest's face over the bottle.
'But I'd look after you like a man should.'
To her immense surprise Clara experienced a pulse of interest at that ambiguous statement. Her clitoris throbbed lightly, just enough to make the blonde aware of her sexual arousal. She looked from Green Vest's face to the faces of his friends, both of whom had sat there, silent, perhaps sensing a glimmer of where this to-and-fro could lead. Could those men feel the tension brewing between the arrogant, muscular black man and herself? She looked across to the barman behind his counter. That man too had paused, standing silent and immobile. Clara caught his look, the barman wanted her too, they all wanted her.
'Oh, God,' Clara muttered, confused by her body's reaction to the scene.
I don't fancy any of them ... This is so sleazy, really disgusting ... The thought of the four of them looking at me ... Four of them ... Four ... Her attention returned to the man in the green vest. I just bet you'd look after me. You'd protect me in this kind of situation. Physically shield me from this kind of shit. He'd look after me in other ways too.
Clara's pulse quickened at the thought of this man making love to her. Her nipples tightened, her sex, of its own accord, began to oil. She felt the heat between her legs suffuse upwards to brush her cleavage and throat with a rosy glow. Thank God for the crap lighting, Clara thought as the blush coloured her cheeks.
'I think you would,' the girl mumbled. 'I'm sure you'd look after me.'
Green Vest made his move immediately. 'Honeymoon, huh?' He shifted closer. 'You should be in bed.' His gaze swept Clara's body. She felt naked, exposed and vulnerable beneath his look. Her body responded to his burning proximity, the scent of him - earthy, virile, sexy. Clara shifted her rump against the plastic chair as her insides clenched and her nipples began to ache. She revised her earlier estimate of not finding any of the men attractive.
Anger flared again. What was she thinking of? Damn her traitorous body. She blamed her husband for this, blamed his timidity and lack of balls. She blamed the local men, was appalled by their arrogance and surety. She hated Green Vest for his assurance, resented his proximity and the effect his virility had upon her. He was so cocky and arrogant ... but at the same time Clara found him sexy. Why couldn't her husband move like that? Why couldn't Daniel act with such cocksure conceit.
'In bed?' Clara mocked. 'Why should I be in bed? You think a honeymoon is about sex?'
'It's all about sex ...'
His hand fell on her bare thigh, eased higher along her leg beneath her dress.
Clara started, flinching and gasping at the audacity.
And then her husband returned.
For reasons she would never quite understand, Clara left the black man's hand on her leg, his fingers branding her skin.
Daniel blinked, sensing some shift in the atmosphere; he just wasn't sure what it was. From the waist down his wife's body was masked by the table, Daniel couldn't see the arm snaking under Clara's dress.
'Uhm ...' Daniel began, remaining standing while five pairs of eyes regarded him. There was something in his wife's expression he couldn't read, while the three seated men looked up at him with varying degrees of disdain. He looked across to the barman. Oddly, Daniel thought he recognised pity in the older man's look. 'I think it's time we left, Clara,' he offered, with as much dignity and force his quavering voice could muster.
Read Reaping the Benefits and Part two to understand the context...
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