When last we left, my wife Andi and I were merely four weeks into our courtship â€“ way back before weâ€™d ever settled down as husband and wife â€“ and enjoying a little mid-winter siesta South of the Mason-Dixon. Enticed by the allure of free Disney tickets, we got suckered into a time-share scheme and just barely made it out of the hardest sell of our young lives. With the sales weasels left in the dust, we hit up the Orlando parks and procured a rental car â€“ pointing our collective nose in the direction of Ft. Lauderdale, where we were set to pick up the final leg of our journey â€“ a weekend cruise to the Bahamas.
As we cruised South on I-95, under a baby-blue Florida sky, a quick peek at the rear-view would have revealed darkness brewing; as thunderclouds and time share enforcers were now hot on our tail. Oblivious to the danger dodging our every move, we raced South â€“ hoping to make it to our hotel by dark. We had a day and a half to spend in Ft. Lauderdale and we wanted to insure that we enjoyed every last second of it.
And thatâ€™s where we pick this â€œFishâ€ tale up.
Walking into that Ft. Lauderdale Holiday Inn on a warm Wednesday afternoon, Andi and I were done looking back at the past. That early morning meeting at the condo complex seemed so far removed from where we were now â€“ hundreds of miles away and looking ahead to a weekend of fun and rum under the Bahamian sun.
Light on air, we wound our way to the front desk and were greeted with â€œNewlyweds?â€.
â€œNOâ€¦ NOâ€¦ HELL NO!!!â€ (Geez, Andi â€“ Give this guy a chance!!!)
So, with that awkward exchange out of the way, we got down to business. The place was under Andiâ€™s name so she offered up her maiden name. (OH, YES!!! â€“ ONE DAY THAT NAME WOULD BE MINE!!! ALL MINE!!!) The woman performed a quick search and then took pause. Something on that flickering cathode caused a blip of distress to course across her face. For the briefest of moments anyway. And then her perky business smile returned.
â€œWell, it appears youâ€™ve had a handful of calls, Mr. Humphries. Brett from Destination Getaways called and would like you to give him a call as soon as you arrive.â€
â€œWhat time did he call?â€, I asked.
â€œWell, it looks like he initially called at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon. Heâ€™s tried reaching you once an hour since then. If he calls again, should I forward him to your room?â€
â€œNoâ€¦ thatâ€™s OK. Iâ€™ll give him a call right away.â€
And with that Andi and I headed to our room. The entire time we unpacked, neither of us spoke â€“ we were both too lost in thought conjuring up an escape plan should Brett come calling again. As Andi worked through her own litany of excuses for why we were simply far too young to enter into a business deal, I began surveying the tiny drops of pristine blue that dotted the landscape 20 stories below. If we got a running start and hit the window at a 32 degree angle while swaddled in enough of those paper thin bath towels, we could decrease our rate of descent just enough to hit the pool below and swim to safety. Of course, Iâ€™ve seen enough X-Files to know weâ€™d either emerge from that pool and be grabbed by covert agents ready to whisk us off in a nondescript black van â€“ OR WORSE â€“ into the clutches of The Flukeman.
But that was me getting way ahead of myself. I looked at Andi and she looked at me. We both were clearly on the same page. All right â€“ on the count of three weâ€™ll both just say it. 1 – 2 – 3…
Andi: â€œI think we should call him back.â€
Me: â€œIâ€™m dying for an Awesome Blossom.â€
So that settles it. The Outback it is.
With a plan etched, we headed out to recharge. After a fistful of Fosters and all the Kookaburra wings a guy could stuff, we made it back to the hotel. Walking by the front desk, we saw the same clerk we met earlier that day. Her gaze caught our eyes and we were sucked into the tractor beam.
â€œOh, Mr. Humphries. Brett, from Destination Getaways, called again. Heâ€™s sorry he missed you and heâ€™d like you to call him back as soon as possible. He said you could contact him anytime tonight.â€
I swallowed a lump, grabbed the note and walked toward the elevator with my head down. This problem wasnâ€™t going away anytime soon.
That night, as Andi and I slumbered, we were startled awake around 2:30 a.m. by a ringing telephone. She and I exchanged wary glances.
â€œIt couldnâ€™t beâ€, I mutteredâ€¦
As Andi went to grab the phone, I grabbed her hand â€“ putting an end to such folly. â€œDonâ€™tâ€¦ If we let the demon in, weâ€™re done for.â€ Of course, to her it probably just sounded like â€œdonifweletthedemoarghhtwodollarsgetouttahereâ€ but the message was clear. As much as you would never whistle past a graveyard or stare in the mirror and mutter â€œOne Bloody Maryâ€¦ Two Bloody Maryâ€ and so on, we couldnâ€™t wish this phantasm into our existence.
So, we ignored the phone as we did 3 hours later.
The next day we made a point to get out of Dodge and just do some sightseeing. We had a very early departure on Friday (4 a.m.) so we needed to hit the sack while the sun was still out in order to get geared up for our maiden voyage. Plus â€“ we wanted to stay far away from the hotel in case Brett came looking for us.
Returning to the hotel we saw our old friend, the desk jockey from the day before. She gave me that same look that said everything â€“ Brett had called once again and HEâ€™S NOT HAPPY!!!
We grabbed our volume of messages and made a run for the room â€“ each of us taking separate paths, never walking in a straight line. Canâ€™t be too careful.
That night the phone rang several more times. We eventually cut the cord and returned to the land of nod. Weâ€™d never get our 2:30 am wake-up call under these conditions, so we were depending solely on the alarm clock to do its thing. I figured that just once in this crazy mixed up world an alarm clock had to be on its game.
At 2:30 a.m., the alarm rang like clockwork. We quickly showered and packed then headed to the lobby to meet our shuttle. For once, we didnâ€™t see the same girl working the desk â€“ thus disproving my theory that Holiday Inn was scrimping on laundry services to help bankroll their army of cybernetic cashiers.
It didnâ€™t matter. The guy at the desk knew who we were immediately. No doubt Destination Getaways had listed us on every Watch List from here to Yemen.
â€œOh, ohâ€¦ Mr. Humphries. I have a messagâ€¦â€
â€œYeah, yeahâ€. I grabbed the latest stack of MASH notes from the guy and immediately trashed â€˜em. I just wanted to leave them and Brett behind as we set sail off the coast of the Continental United States. And if Brett somehow tracked us down on the high seas, Iâ€™d invoke the pirate law of parlay and handle things the old fashioned way â€“ with gallons of rum-soaked liquid courage as fuel.
Soon enough, we were onboard the cruise ship heading out for the three hour tour to Grand Bahama Island. A THREE HOUR TOUR!!! What could possibly go wrong?
With several Bahama Mamas in me before the sun broke on the Atlantic â€“ our weeklong nightmare had faded with the dying night. A Calypso band broke out every variation of the Macarena they had in their arsenal. Times couldnâ€™t be better.
When we docked, we were ushered onto a shuttle bus which brought us to the hotel. By that point, we were living the island life and all of our cares and worries were gone. Thatâ€™s what that Caribbean air will do for you â€“ all stresses set aloft on warm Southern currents.
We arrived at the hotel after a quick 15-minute scenic drive, grabbed our bags and followed the herd to the hotel veranda â€“ where several squads of reception staff and a cadre of concierge waited to usher us along on our weekend island escape. As Andi and I strode to the front of the line, we were welcomed by a warm booming voice.
â€œWelcome to the island, mon.â€
Instantly we were set at ease by that honeyed voice. She and I exchanged glances. The week may have been spent running along one ring of Hell to the next but it was about to end in Heaven.
â€œAll I need is your name, mon, and weâ€™ll have you and the missus on your way.â€
â€œEd Humphriesâ€, I replied, â€œand this is the fairâ€¦â€
His sunny island demeanor was gone â€“ as dreaded doldrums settled in.
â€œOh, dear. Iâ€™m afraid I have several messages for you from a Mr. Brett. He seems quiet urgent and insistent.â€
â€œIs he here?â€, I asked fearfully.
â€œOh no â€“ but he said you could speak to his assistants. Theyâ€™re right over there under that tent.â€ With that, he directed our gaze to a cabana just on the patio â€“ sporting a huge sign emblazoned with the Mark of Our Beast â€“ Getaway Destinations.
No way in Hell were we going anywhere near that tent. So â€“ once again, the game was afoot. By now, Andi and I had grown quite adept at keeping two steps ahead of our predator. And though we spent the better part of a week duck, dodging and wailing away from their nefarious advances, weâ€™d still found time to see the fun in it all. And we werenâ€™t going to let that crash our island holiday.
At least, thatâ€™s the thought that steeled our reserve the second our eyes fell upon Fish Pants.
As we stared directly at that tent, contemplating whether we should just finally make Getaway our next Destination, Fish Pants wandered into view; so named because of the screaming loud purple, orange and yellow pants he wore â€“ a blinding barrage of colors accented with a vast menagerie of Rainbow Fish, each one boasting scales that shined brighter than the last. The blistering assault of his bloomers was matched only by his booming, booze-tinged local yokel voice.
Saved by White Trash.
The mere presence of Fish Pants made us forget Brett and his Legion of Doom. Here was a new phantom menace to slay. And now â€“ for the rest of the vacation â€“ everywhere we went, we came across Fish Pants. If our thoughts even once wandered into the realm where Getaway was plotting our Final Destination, Fish Pants would show up wearing something sparkly, sequined and covered in sword fish and bring us right back to fantasy land. And the more we reveled in his attire, the more we loosened up and laughed off the Getaway getaway.
Of course â€“ if I knew then what I know now â€“ I might have played things a bit different.
$1K is a freakinâ€™ steal.