Excerpt from Leave of Absence

The gate was open, and as Ronan walked through it he remembered the sight of the German hanging from the top with his mouth stuffed. If they caught him, they wouldn't hang him on the gate, they would throw him into the ocean. For a moment he wished he had gone along with Filo's idea of asking the Cobras to help them, but then he imagined all the things that could have gone wrong if they had done that, and he was recommitted to his plan.

The place was almost empty, so it had been a good decision to come early. He sat at a table from which he could see the whole courtyard, and he ordered a Brugal straight up. By the time the waitress brought it, the woman with the beady eyes and the parrot nose came over to his table. He remembered that her name was Vilma.

"Welcome to Arabian Nights," she said. "Is this your first time here?"

"Ja," he said. "I have heard so many good things about it."

"Are you German?"

"Ja. Ich bin echt Deutsch."

"We have a lot of German clients. Did you hear about us from one of them?"

"Ja, ja. Mine friend Helmut came here a month ago."

"Well, he must have had a good time."

"He had a great time," Ronan said. "He had two young girls together. He said their names were Lucy and Elvira."

Vilma appraised him. "They happen to be available, but you'd have to pay a premium to have them together."

"How much is the premium?"

"Twenty percent."

"So how much would be the total cost?"

"It's two hundred dollars for one of them, so two of them together would be four hundred plus the premium, so the total cost would be four hundred eighty dollars. You can have them for two hours. And you can do anything you want with them."

"I will pay you four hundred and fifty dollars."

"We have a deal. Pay me now, and I'll bring them to you."

Ronan reached into a pocket of his shorts and got out five one-hundred dollar bills and handed them to Vilma, who checked them with her beady eyes to make sure they weren't counterfeit. It occurred to Ronan that she could probably tell if they were.

"I owe you fifty," Vilma said as she left him to get the girls.

As he waited he worried that they would recognize him and give the game away, so he held his breath when Vilma brought them, handing him a fifty-dollar bill. He could tell from their eyes that they recognized him, but they were cool. Their faces had the hardened look of experienced professionals.

"Mine name is Fritz," he told them. "You are beautiful girls."

"Can we have the bridal suite?" Leticia asked Vilma.

"You can have it for two hours," Vilma said.

"Gracias," the girls said almost together.

He followed them into a colonnade that went around the main building. The bridal suite was at the end, and Leticia opened the door for him, standing aside with Elsa.

They went into the suite, and when the door was closed behind them Leticia said: "Gracias a Dios. That bitch didn't recognize you."

"I almost didn't," Elsa said. "You look like a German."

"I'm going to get you out of here," Ronan said. "But you have to help me."

"We can't go out the door," Leticia said. "A guard is watching."

"What about this window? Where does it go?"

"It goes out into the backyard, where they hang the laundry."

Ronan peered out the window into the dimly lit yard. "Is there a gate to the street?"

"No. But we could climb over the wall."

"Are you sure you can? That wall is higher than you are."

"If you help us, we can," Leticia said.

"If you help us," Elsa said, "we can do anything."

"Come here," he said, opening his arms to them. They were wearing short shorts and tops that exposed their belly buttons and their exaggerated cleavage. But they were kids, they were only kids, and his love for them was pure.

They came to him, and he hugged them, softly kissing the tops of their heads and saying: "Que Dios te proteja."

Quietly, they opened the window and one by one they climbed out. There were sheets hanging on the lines, which provided some cover for them. They moved through the sheets toward the wall, and then after making sure there was no watchiman in the yard, they went to the wall. Luckily there was no broken glass on top of it, as there often was on walls that surrounded houses of the rich.

"I'll give you a boost," Ronan said, making a stirrup with his hands.

"You go first," Leticia said to Elsa.

"What if there's someone on the other side?" Elsa asked.

"If there is, we're in trouble," Ronan said. "But there's no reason why there would be. If they're going to stop us, they'll do it on this side of the wall."

The girls nodded as if that made sense.

"Do you want me to go first?" Leticia asked.

"If it's all right with you, I do," Elsa said.

"Come on, come on. We're wasting time," Ronan said.

Leticia put a foot into his hands and holding on to the back of his neck she raised herself to a height where she could reach the top of the wall with her other hand.

She couldn't have weighed more than ninety pounds.

"Now, hold the wall with both hands," he told her, "and swing your legs over the top so that you can drop on the other side."

As she looked over the wall she said: "There's no one on the other side."

"That's good," he said. He watched as her hands let go.