Story and art by Cecilia Chapman
In a few hours I was leaving to visit my cousin for three weeks. His wife had left him for a computer salesman while he was surfing one day, so he bought a run-down motel on the west coast of Baja. He sent me photographs and told me to come visit. He'd named it the 'American Motel' and painted the name on a broken surfboard, with the last three letters of 'American' painted in red, white, and blue. So when Henry, my boss, threw one of his tantrums, I didn't really care. His cooks forgot to fire the second roast beef for the banquet I was serving, and from the dining room I could hear Henry pounding the butcher block with his knife. When I looked in the kitchen he was on the floor screaming.

I was working the big party in the back room, and Kristi was waiting tables in the front of the house. We were helping each other out and splitting the tips. The lunch hour rush was over when I checked on her tables. A few stragglers were left. A secretary and her boss were finishing a half-bottle of wine in the corner, Kristi's boyfriend and his business partners from the garage next door were arguing, and three men were hunched over photographs like crows over something dead. Kristi was in the bathroom throwing up because she was pregnant.

The forty-five ladies attending the banquet were running me. They were ferocious eaters. One of them wore a baseball cap that said 'retired' on the front and a fur-

lined, gold embroidered vest with dragons. Incredible jade, pearl, and diamond earrings dangled from her ears. Kristi called them 'beach rocks.' The lady was four feet tall, eighty years old, owned half of Chinatown, all of Ting Electronics, and was dogging me for more of Henry's cream puffs. The table was waiting for the second roast beef, more dumplings, more ginger, and more hot water with lemon. Henry's mother, Lyn, was there. She took her friends to Henry's to eat so he wouldn't close down.

Lyn had said to me before, "Bad, bad, very bad. My boys very bad, and they run with rich boys who don't work." At one time she had owned casinos in Shanghai. Now Lyn owned restaurants and real estate, which was good, as she was Henry's primary investor and he was losing money.

One of the men at the table of three was waving at me. Viktor, a Russian antique dealer with his partner, Yusof. They were Henry's regulars. Carlos, a lawyer, a Colombian, who I'd served in different restaurants was with them. He wore tiny dark glasses day and night, and the same clothes all the time. The Russians lumbered through Henry's oyster bar and caviar like bears. They were amiable, stolid, but wary. Not people you'd want to excite unnecessarily. I didn't think they had all known each other.
Viktor put his huge hands together to form a glass and requested, "Two scotches, single malt. We fly to Baja later. Yusof not good flying."


The plane took off with a shuddering whine that scattered my thoughts in the clouds. I looked up and saw the Russians a few seats in front of me and slouched low. All I wanted to do was forget Henry's, the art gallery that had just dropped my work, and the past six years I'd spent with a man who left me for a tattooed woman who yelled at him. I just wanted to surf and looked forward to speaking Spanish and not thinking in English, as if that too might erase my mind. Finally a shiny, new airstrip appeared beside a long, cool look south across the sapphire sea.

Shawn picked me up in his station wagon loaded with produce. "Yeah, I'm jam- packed, booked, cuz, but I saved you your own bungalow in the back. Your timing is great, the international pro surf tour is happening all week down the beach at Negro's. I got the rooms packed with dudes, like six to eight in a room paying me good moola. Hope they don't disturb you, they're having a good time. Even the hammocks off the terrace got takers 'cause I put up a Web site with the lowest rates around. I got a couple empty bunga- lows left tonight with some fishermen com-
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