Michelle dropped the sarong she’d started to tie around her waist
onto her lounge chair. Nobody cared what her thighs looked like.
Sand burned the soles of her feet as she walked down to the
water. Look at these people, she thought. Foreigners, mostly. Like
her. Older, a lot of them. Sagging, leathered skin, the ones who’d
been here awhile. Pale tourists, big-bellied, pink-faced, glowing
with sunburn. A family of locals—Mexicans anyway, who knew
if they were really from here? Dark, short, and blocky, eating
shrimp on a stick from the grill down the beach, giant bottles of Coke tucked in a Styrofoam cooler. Out of shape. Lumpy. Flabby. Aging.
And her thighs weren’t bad, anyway.
She stood at the water’s edge, watching the rainbow parasail
from the real-estate company lift a middle-aged woman into the
soft blue sky, the motorboat gunning its engine and heading out
into the bay, avoiding the banana boat undulating up and down
as it hauled a load of college kids south toward Los Arcos. She
watched them gripping the yellow tube with their knees, shrieking
with laughter, several clutching beers, tanned and young and
They’d drink until they puked, screw each other till they
passed out, go home and post about their awesome vacation on
their Facebook pages.
She waded into the water until it was up to her hips. Warm as
a bath, but the surf was pounding. She stood there trying to resist
the pull as the receding waves sucked the sand out from under
After a while she’d had enough and went back to her lounger
beneath the palapa
She tried to read her book. It was about a woman whose marriage
had broken up, and she’d learned to bake bread. Bread and
muffins. After about thirty pages, Michelle was willing to bet that
the heroine would end up with the overly educated woodworker
and not the stressed-out options trader.
“Ma’am? Can I get you something? Something to drink?”
The hotel waiter, dressed in a white guayabera and smudged
white pants, stood above her, round, sweating tray in hand.
Nutbrown, gray-haired, creases marking his face like wrinkles in
a crumpled shirt.
She thought about it. “A margarita, please.”
Why not? She didn’t need to be sober to follow this plot.
They’d already paid for the vacation. It still seemed like an
extravagance. She and Tom were going to go together. A getaway.
A celebration, he’d said.
She wondered what it was that he’d wanted to celebrate.
She must have fallen asleep for a while. That was sort of the point
with these vacations. You partied at night. Got up earlier than
you’d like. Grabbed your palapa
while the sun was still low
behind the eastern mountains, spread out your towel on your
blue canvas chair, put on your sunblock, found your place in your
novel. First cocktail at lunch, to wash down the greasy quesadillas
brought out to you on a paper plate. Try to ignore the vendors
selling jewelry, blankets, offering to braid your hair, massage
your feet. At some point you’d close your eyes, tired as they were
from reading in the shaded sunlight, irritated from the sunscreen
sweated into them.
When she opened her eyes, it was late afternoon. She’d been
dreaming, about something. About being too hot. About . . . what
was it about? About somebody breathing in her ear. Leaning over,
touching her shoulder. A man, but not Tom. Didn’t you forget?
asked. Didn’t you forget?
A few clouds had come in, but it was still hot, and the sun glared
in her eyes. She blinked a few times. Then something blotted out
A parasail, between the beach and the sun.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. The parasail was its
own small eclipse, dark against the sun. Now she could see it—the
bloodred parachute, white letters glowing.
tourism kills! they spelled. In English.
Michelle blinked again and stood.
An atypical crowd had gathered on the beach. Elegantly dressed
men and women—a wedding party, she thought at first. Waiters
rushed to fill shot glasses with tequila. Photographers ringed the
group, pointing their cameras at the parasail, which was heading
back from the bay.
Now she could see the person in the harness. Even at this distance,
he appeared huge, roughly as spherical as a balloon. As he
descended, she saw that he wore a three-piece brown tweed suit
and a red plaid tie.
She wished she had her camera. But it was locked up in the
hotel’s safe—too valuable to risk leaving on the beach while she
napped or waded.
The parasail crew—tattooed, in surfwear T-shirts and baggy
trunks—kicked up sand as they staggered under the parasail rider’s
weight, trying to guide him to his landing, and for a moment
Michelle thought they would all collapse in a heap. But at the last
second a third man dressed in a crisp linen suit stepped forward,
bracing his hands against the fat man’s chest, pedaling backward
until at last the body in motion came to rest.
The people in the crowd cheered and raised their glasses in a
“That was different.”
The man next to her smiled.
“Yes,” she said. “What was it, exactly?”
“Arts festival. It’s running all this week.”
He was an American, or sounded like one. About her age.
Tanned so dark that the creases around his eyes fanned out like
“Should be interesting,” he said, “if you like that kind of stuff.”
He wore a pair of baggy swim trunks and a faded batik shirt.
Gray flecked his hair and the stubble of his beard, but he was
rangy trim. A fit fortyish.
“Do you?” she asked.
“It’s kind of fun,” he said with a shrug. “I mean, art, you hang it
on a wall or put it on a pedestal. I’m not sure what this is.”
“Performance,” Michelle murmured.
By now a procession had formed around the fat man: the welldressed
crowd, the photographers, and a group of young musicians
wearing matching T-shirts, singing “Paperback Writer” in perfect
harmony. Together they set off down the beach, north toward the
pier, laughing, drinking tequila. A brown dog followed in their wake.
“I was going to get a drink,” the man said. “Would you like to
His name was Daniel. “I live here part-time,” he explained. “Got a
condo in Amapas.”
“Are you retired?” she asked.
He drew back, mock offended. “Wow. I hope I don’t look old
enough to be retired.”
“Not at all,” she said. “But you never know what people’s situations
“Well, I’m not loaded either,” he said with a grin. “I’m a pilot.
The work is sort of freelance. So I have some flexibility about
where I spend my time.”
They sat at a table under a palapa
, on the sand. The sun wouldn’t
set for another few hours; the restaurant staff had just begun to
bring tables out to the beach for dinner. Michelle expected that
the restaurant would not be full, even with the arts festival.
Memorial Day weekend was the last gasp of tourist season in
Puerto Vallarta, and it was still pretty quiet. Too hot this time of
year. The crowds came earlier, for Easter and spring break, and
later in the fall, after the rains.
“A pilot. For an airline?”
“No. Private company. We fly Gulfstreams and Citations
He scooped up guacamole with a chip, spooned salsa on top
of that. “You know, businessmen who can’t afford their own but
want to impress a client. Rich guys who want to get to a golf
course or a football game in a hurry. That kind of thing.”
She nodded and sipped her margarita. They made good ones
here. Not too sweet. You could taste the lime. “Sounds fun,” she
He smiled. “Works for me.”
The sun had moved behind a bank of clouds, illuminating them
like a bright bulb in a shaded lamp.
“Check it out,” Daniel said.
She looked where he pointed. A pair of dolphins surfed at the
crest of a wave. They leaped above its crest, plunged back into the
water, caught the next swell, then shot up again, twisting in midair
like a pair of dancers.
“Better than SeaWorld.”
She nodded. “It’s beautiful here.”
Daniel leaned back in his chair, took a final sip of his drink.
“How long are you staying?”
“I’m not sure. My flight’s on Sunday. I might change it.”
She wasn’t sure why she said it. She had no real intention of
changing her flight. It was just that when she thought about what
was waiting for her in Los Angeles, it was easy to indulge in the
fantasy of staying a little longer. Of never going back.
“Nothing pressing back home?”
He was looking at her in that way, sizing her up, what her
intentions were, what she might be willing to do.
She shook her head.
She laughed briefly. “I’m between things.”
He didn’t ask questions. Michelle wasn’t sure how she felt
about that. She wasn’t ready to talk about any of it, certainly not
to a stranger, but on the other hand one does like to be asked.
“This is a good place to be,” he said. “When you just want to
relax and figure things out.”
Maybe that wasn’t such a bad answer.
He was a good-looking man, she thought, with sharp cheekbones
and a firm jaw, sky-blue eyes that stood out against his black
hair and dark tan. The gray in his hair, the crow’s-feet around his
eyes, made him more attractive. To her anyway.
Otherwise he would have been too perfect.
Men like that could have anyone.
“Another margarita, ma’am? Sir?”
Daniel grinned. “I’m up for it if you are.”
She hesitated. This was her second of the day, and she hadn’t
Losing control would be a bad idea.
“How would you feel about dinner?” she asked.
They had another drink so they could watch the sunset, ate some
more guacamole to absorb the tequila. “There’s a restaurant not
too far from here I like,” Daniel said.
“I’m not really dressed.” She’d only put on a gauzy white
blouse over her bathing-suit top, wrapped the sarong around
“What you’re wearing is fine,” he said, giving her a quick,
appreciative look. “It’s a casual place. Lots of people go there after
The restaurant was a few blocks away, on a street that ran up
from the beach and bordered a small plaza, where there were a
number of restaurants that catered to tourists. Farther up the
street were shops, mostly clothing stores and handicrafts: Huichol
beadwork, hand-tooled leather, embroidered blouses. Michelle
had walked up there the day before.
“There’s always lines out the door,” Daniel said. “It’s one of the
only decent places to get Mexican food around here.”
They waited outside, by the open-air grill, where a woman
made tortillas and a man tended meats.
He shrugged. “Well, I’m sure there are some places the locals
go to that I don’t know about. Here in Zona Romántica—you can
get better Mexican food in Los Angeles.”
Michelle nodded. “I’m from Los Angeles,” she mentioned.
“Oh, yeah? I love L.A. Where do you live?”
Of course, that wasn’t exactly true. The storage space with her
things in it was in Torrance.
But she’d lived in Brentwood, before.
“Nice,” Daniel said. “Good weather, right, that close to the
It was hot inside the restaurant, even with the fans, even though the
front was open to let in whatever breezes there were. There weren’t
any. The air was weighted down by heat and humidity, immobile.
Daniel recommended the tortilla soup. They both ordered
a bowl. Had another round of margaritas. Mariachis played,
whether anyone wanted them to or not.
The man who approached their table was soft-featured, in his
thirties, wearing Dockers and a polo shirt.
Daniel shifted in his chair. “Ned, hey.” Something close to a
frown creased his forehead.
“Man, I can’t believe I ran into you here. I was just, you know,
on my way to the restaurant, and I saw you.”
“Yeah, well, we’re having dinner,” Daniel said.
Ned shuffled from one foot to the other, rubbed his hands
together. “I don’t want to interrupt. But, look, I really need to talk
to you. When you have a chance. Are you around, or . . . ?”
“Can you make it to the board meeting? We can talk then.”
“I guess . . . I’ll try. . . . It’s just . . . kind of time-sensitive.” Ned
looked around, eyes darting, still rubbing his hands. He reminded
Michelle of the tweakers she used to know in high school. “Hey,
you could come by the restaurant tomorrow night. I’ll hook you
up. We’re running some great specials. Surf and turf. Got some
good wines in, too.” He finally focused on Michelle. “You could
bring your friend.”
“This is Michelle,” Daniel said. “From Los Angeles.”
“Oh, cool.” He extended his hand to her. She took it. Sweaty,
not surprisingly. “My place is just down the street. The Lonely
Bull.” He smiled at her for a moment and seemed to lose focus.
“Hope you can make it.”
“I don’t know, man,” Daniel said. “I’ve got some stuff going
on. Look, just give me a call tomorrow, okay?”
Ned nodded like a bobblehead doll. “Okay. Great. I’ll call you.”
“The board meeting?” Michelle asked after he’d left. “Are you
in business together?”
Daniel snorted. “With Ned? No.”
By now their carnitas had arrived, along with another round of
I’m getting pretty buzzed, she thought. She no longer cared.
“The board meeting, it’s just a bunch of us expats who get
together on Fridays, at El Tiburón. We hang out, watch the
sunset.” He stared at her. “Think you’ll be around?”
“Maybe,” she murmured. “Tiburón. Like the town in California?”
“Maybe.” He grinned. “It’s Spanish for ‘shark.’”
• • •
By the time they finished eating, it was almost eleven. Not that
late, but after all the drinks and a day in the sun Michelle had
to step carefully off the high curbs onto the cobblestones. That
was the thing here—the curbs were not a uniform height, you
couldn’t just assume you knew how to judge the distances.
“Whoa!” Daniel said, catching her elbow, steadying her.
Michelle giggled. “Glad I’m not wearing heels.”
Now they had reached her hotel, bypassing the open-air lobby
and entering through the arches that bordered on the wide,
“Which way is your room?”
Through the courtyard, to the right, in the tower overlooking
the beach. Watch for the slick terra-cotta tiles, the sand gritting
underfoot. Wait for the elevator, and when it doesn’t come, climb
the stairs to the fourth floor.
Michelle felt around in her sisal tote bag for her key, found
the hard plastic wedge stamped with the room number, the key
attached. Her hand closed around it.
She turned, her back to the door.
“Well,” she said.
He leaned down and kissed her. She tasted salt—from the
drinks? From the ocean? She leaned into him, let her hand rest
above the small of his back. He pressed against her, hard. She
wrapped her leg around his, felt his hands on her ass, lifting her up.
“Wait,” she said. She showed him the key.
He grinned. “I was hoping you’d ask me in.”
The room was stifling. She’d turned the air conditioner off, out
of habit. She switched it on, and the unit rattled to life. It smelled
musty, like the spoiled damp of an old refrigerator. Still, with the
sliding glass doors that led to the balcony left open, you could
hear the ocean, catch a whiff of its brine.
Daniel stood and watched her, a dark silhouette.
“Come here,” he said.
By the time they’d made it to the bed, the air conditioner had
chilled the room enough that Michelle was grateful for the warm
breeze that blew in from the balcony.
“You have a beautiful body,” Daniel said, running a hand lightly
over her belly.
“So do you.”
The words sounded stupid as soon as she said them. You don’t
tell men they’re beautiful.
Daniel didn’t seem to mind. He looked pleased. “Gotta keep in
shape for the things I enjoy.”
He had a nice body, he really did. Lean but not stringy.
Energetic. She hadn’t been with anybody like him in a long time.
Certainly not Tom, and she’d stayed faithful to Tom.
Tom with his big belly, his barrel chest. Twelve years older than
her and not exactly a stud.
“Hey,” Daniel said. “Hey, what is it?”
She was crying, goddamn it. She rarely cried. She hated it.
“Hey.” He smoothed the hair around her face.
He was looking at her now, and she could tell what he was
thinking: Great, I’m in bed with a crazy woman.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry. Don’t . . . It’s stupid.”
“Listen, I mean, if you’re not into this . . .”
He tried but could not quite keep the irritation from his voice.
“I am. I’m sorry. It’s just . . .” She tried to smile. “I haven’t dated
in a while. My husband . . .”
“So . . . you’re married?” Now the irritation seemed mixed
No disapproval at least. Perhaps a calculation about whether
this was worth it.
“No. Not anymore.”
“Oh.” Daniel rolled over onto his side, propped himself up on
his elbow. “Yeah. It’s tough getting back into things after you split
from somebody you’ve been with for a long time.”
“My husband died, actually.”
She enjoyed it in a way, getting the reaction, seeing the look on
his face, the shock, the embarrassment.
“I’m really sorry,” he said.
The way he said it, so simply, made her flush with guilt.
“No, don’t be, I really . . .” She wanted to reach out, wanting
to touch him, to encourage him, but it felt so awkward, so phony.
“I want to,” she finally said. “It’s just a little hard.”
Daniel extended his hand, rested his palm on her cheek for a
moment. “Look. We both had a lot to drink. This is all kind of
intense. Maybe I should just go.”
This time she did reach out. “No. Stay. If you want.”
They tried again. But the energy that had gotten them into
bed was gone now, dissipated, and after a few perfunctory thrusts
Daniel stopped and mumbled, “I’m sorry. I’m really tired.”
“Don’t apologize.” She tried to smile. “You’ve been great. I
“Don’t worry about it.”
His face was dark above hers, but she thought his expression
She kissed him, slowly.
“Mmmm. That was nice,” he said.
After that they both fell asleep, not spooning but close together,
Daniel’s hand resting on the hollow above her hip.
So many noises here. The familiar: unmuffled motorcycle,
snatches of music, pounding surf. The unfamiliar: songbirds
singing foreign tunes, parrots squawking, the toc-toc
cry of geckos.
What woke her?
A muffled thud. A clatter. She blinked her eyes open. Two men,
one entering from the balcony, the other crouched over the chair,
Daniel’s shorts in his hand, her totebag on the floor by his feet.
“Hey!” Daniel flung the sheet off, bolted out of bed.
Now Michelle saw they wore kerchiefs over the lower halves of
their faces. The second pulled something from his pocket, something
dark that he gripped in his fist. For a moment Daniel froze
as the man took two quick strides to him, raised the hand that
clutched the black pistol, and smashed it against his temple.
Daniel crumpled, as surely as if he’d been shot.
It happened so quickly that Michelle didn’t scream; instead she
gasped and clutched the sheet.
The man with the gun turned to her.
He was close to the bed. She could see that he wore dark
clothes, a black T-shirt, jeans, and he took another step toward
her. He had on a belt, woven brown and white leather; she could
see it clearly in the light that leaked in from the balcony.
The buckle was a gun, and there were letters in the weave. She
saw those as he tugged at the tongue of the belt to unbuckle it.
” the other man spit, gesturing toward the balcony.
The man with the gun stared at her a moment longer before
he turned and followed his companion out the sliding glass door,
into the night.
Excerpted from Getaway by Lisa Brackmann. Copyright © 2012 by Lisa Brackmann. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.