Silvio Gutierrez squinted in the brightest sunshine he had ever seen in life. He slipped his sunglasses on with a grunt and climbed down the steps of the tiny little plane that had stolen what felt like 12 years instead of hours of his life. As he passed through the little building that served as the San Sebastian International Airport he caught the eye of several women, young and old, watching him with interest and grunted again. He had no time for women, women were trouble and he already had enough trouble in his life. The idea was to keep his head down, his nose clean and start a new life where no one knew his past. After collecting his satchel from the carousel, Silvio made his way outside where a lanky young black man engrossed in a newspaper lounged against a gaudily painted bus with words on the side that had been bleached by the sun and the ravages of time.
“Are you from Peyton’s Place?” Silvio asked in as perfect English as he could muster.
The young man grunted. “Yeah.”
Silvio stared at the boy for a moment before throwing his bag into the bus and saying, “Ready when you are.”
Sighing, he slowly folded his paper, tucked it under his arm and climbed on to the rickety bus. The mechanism squealed as he turned it to close the door and started the bus up with a sputtering roar. As they rumbled down the street Silvio got a good look at his new home. San Sebastian was a quiet little island with long stretches of golden sandy beach surrounded by shimmering emerald waters.
Of course, you couldn’t see all that sand and water for the towers of multi-story hotels and casinos that had sprung up between the road and the beach. The city was noisy and crawling with tourists and the stench caused Silvio to wrinkle his nose. It reminded him of home and Silvio wondered if he had made a mistake, as it was his intention to leave his native Madrid to start over with a clean slate. Then they were out and the bus lumbered up hills and through the mountains, coming out on the other side to a breathtaking view of lush forests and lagoons and finally calm quiet beaches. There stood a sole building made of pink sandstone that was in dire need of repair with many tiles missing or broken. Above the glass doors were the remnants of a neon sign that once said Peyton’s Place.
“Home sweet home.” The driver muttered as the bus moaned to a stop.
As Silvio entered the lobby, with its cracked tiled floors and chipped and fading paint on the walls, he took comfort in knowing that at least for a little while he would have work. Despite the fact the hotel looked as if it would crumble to dust at any moment, the room was surprisingly clean. Except for the occasional lizard lounging on a wall, Silvio could see no dust flying through the beams of lazy sunshine that came through the sparkling windows and not a cobweb or insect could be seen anywhere. An older heavy-set black woman wearing a bright red turban to match her red floral dress and gold bangles donning her ears and wrists emerged from the back room to the front desk, its wood an immaculate and polished mahogany.
“Good morning, how cya mi help you?” The woman crooned, her voice deep and smooth with a thick accent on her tongue as she flashed Silvio the first genuine smile he’d seen all day.
“My name is Silvio Gutierrez, I am here to see Senor Peyton.” Silvio replied smiling back.
The woman’s smile disappeared as she suppressed a sob and reached into the top of her dress for a handkerchief to blow her nose. After a moment she said, “Mi sorry, but Mr. Peyton ave gone to the comforting arms of the creator.”
Silvio blinked. “He’s dead?”
“Gone dem yah two days.”
Silvio leaned his head back and closed his eyes, temples throbbing as he curbed his anger the way the counselor had taught him.
“Ah there something mi cya help you with?” He heard the woman say as she composed herself, “Mi Edwina, the front desk manager.”
“I’m not sure that you can, Edwina.” Silvio answered. “I have just arrived from España to start work here. I was referred to Senior Peyton by a mutual friend, Manuel Gaspar.”
“Ah yes,” Edwina replied, her eyes and face brightening as she smiled again, “you the criss handyman? Mr. Gaspar sing fi your praises to Mr. Peyton! As you cya see, there ah much to do.”
She swept her massive arm across the room for Silvio to take in the state of the place and he nodded. “Si, I noticed pero if Senor Peyton is dead, who will pay my wages. I cannot work for free, Edwina.”
Edwina chuckled. “Who cya? The estate ave been sekled in the will and the Place did pass to a member of the fambly.”
Glancing around Silvio smirked, “One look at this place and he will probably set fire to it!”
Edwina chuckled again and motioned him forward. “Mr. Payton ave say that nuf times himself recently. Come now, mi show you fi your room.”
“Somebody has a nasty sense of humor.” Lali said, stepping out of her wet flip-flops by the door and dropping the mail on the kitchen table.
“What’s wrong, mija?” The rotund woman looked up from her magazine and kissed her niece hello.
“I got a letter from some fake law office saying I just inherited a hotel.”
“Is that like that Nigerian prince thing on the internets?”
“I don’t think so.” Lali flicked through her phone and frowned. “Ok, so there is a law firm in New York called Threadbare, Windermere and Gainer but anyone could make up an official looking letterhead. It’s got to be a scam, unless I have a rich uncle you haven’t told me about.”
“Lali.” Carmen blanched as her niece dialed the phone.
“Good afternoon, Threadbare, Windermere and Gainer, how may I help you?”
“Hang on.” She replied as the line picked up. “Yeah hi, my name is Vidalia Rivera and I received a letter from a Silas Threadbare about the death of my father and an inheritance only my father died 24 years ago.”
“One moment please.”
Lali rolled her eyes as the smooth sounds of Chuck Mangione played a moment before clicking off again.
“Hello Miss Rivera, I’m Silas Threadbare, how are you?”
“Confused.” Lali chuckled. “As I told your secretary, I got your letter about my father but he died when I was a kid.”
She heard the rustling of papers before he said, “You were born to Evalisse Rivera and George Peyton at New York Hospital on April 15, 1994, correct?”
“I am the executor of George Peyton’s will, Miss Rivera. My client died in an accident six days ago and named you as a beneficiary of his hotel, Peyton’s Place, on the Caribbean island of San Sebastian.”
“A hotel?” Lali dropped into a chair in disbelief.
The older woman placed a cool hand on Lali’s. “Your mother should’ve told you a long time ago.”
Lali saw the tragic look on her aunt’s face and said, “Let me call you back.”
“Told me what, Titi?”
“Your father didn’t die fighting in Kuwait, I don’t think he was ever in the military. They met at the Waldorf Astoria where they worked, she was in housekeeping and he worked the front desk. They saw each other often but as soon as your mother found out she was pregnant with you, he disappeared. She felt so stupid, trusting him and thinking he was in love with her. She came down here to raise you and told everyone he died in the service before they could get married.”
“Puneta! So, what he thinks he can make up for abandoning us by giving me a hotel?”
“Then the letter is real?”
“Apparently, but I don’t want anything from him.”
“Mija, it’s a hotel.”
Lali sucked her teeth. “It’s a bribe! He’s trying to buy my love and it’s not for sale.”
“Chica, the man is dead and now so is your mother. All your life all you ever talked about was running your own hotel. You used to make little rooms out of shoeboxes and milk crates for your friends’ dolls when they went on vacation, remember? You took good care of your mama for ten years, now it’s time to put that degree of yours to good use. God is giving you the chance to start your life again.”
Lali hadn’t believed in God since her mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer after a long life of making beds and scrubbing toilets but she bit back the retort she knew would upset her aunt. Everything the woman said was true and Lali knew throwing the hotel back in her father’s face wouldn’t affect him any now that he was dead. She’d be foolish to pass up the chance to run her own place and leave her thankless job working for a pervy boss at a roach infested motel off I-95.
“It’s on the island of San Sebastian somewhere in the Caribbean, although I’ve never heard of it. It might take me some time to get settled, will you be alright here until I can send for you?”
Carmen squeezed Lali’s hand so hard a knuckle cracked and she laughed, “I’ll be just fine, go!”