Utila's just a flyspeck on the map of the world. It lies right off the Honduran coast, one of the Bay Islands, a place settled by pirates who braved the seas for gold.
These days, the island's wealth arrives with young divers who come to explore the coral reef. These days, visitors don't arrive by frigate; they fly in from La Ceiba on small planes, planes with warning signs written in Russian, decommissioned junkers from Aeroflot or someplace. Every time the plane dips its wings toward the Caribbean 's blue, the passengers hold their breaths and pray. I know I did. Except for the praying part.
I'd been to Guatemala already, spent a full-moon night amongst the pyramids of Tikal, communing with ghosts, getting over a love affair I never should have allowed to drag me down. I'd submerged myself in Kate, her desires and her life and most of all her needs. And after two years of misery, I'd discovered it was a mistake. She was a mistake, my job was a mistake, my life was going nowhere. I decided to skip the worst of a Philadelphia winter and head to Central America to lick my wounds.
The flimsy little plane managed to touch down on Utila's grassy airstrip, just beside a crystal-blue harbor. It was only a short walk to the main street. Quaint as hell, wooden buildings, tropical paradise. Dive shops. Restaurants. Lots of small hotels. Hotels without a single room for rent.
Semi-exhausted from dragging my backpack up and down the street in a fruitless search for a place to stay, I collapsed into a tattered wicker chair in the lobby of Lucie's Hotel.
"Hey. You look exhausted."
I looked up. He was dark and slightly stocky, Greek background maybe, wearing shorts, flip-flops, and a raggedy T-shirt.
"I am. You know of anyplace to stay? I'll be damned if I can find a vacant room."
"You should have caught the earlier flight over."
"Now you tell me." I grimaced.
"Listen. There's a second bed in my room, if you don't snore. You'd be welcome to spend the night. I'll just have to check it out with the management."
"Lucie?" I asked.
"There is no Lucie. Never has been, I hear." He extended his hand. "My name's Aaron."
"Thom," I said. "Pleased to meet you. How long you been here?"
"A while. Great place to dive."
"So I hear."
"Water's so clear you can always see the bottom. All the way down."