I met Richard my first night in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. He owned a little place called the Why Not? Private club, built mostly with corrugated tin and spilled drinks, with a tree growing up through the middle.
My friend, the local rep of a major liquor multinational, finished his beer and waved for another. We’d spent the past few days resort-hopping down the gold coast, dropping off wine glasses and cases of rum at increasingly lavish hotels.
Now we found ourselves in a home for ladies of negotiable affection. In case there was any doubt from the club’s name, the wooden sign featuring an oversized, hand-painted red lipstick kiss left little doubt.
“Where do you buy your alcohol?” my not-to-be-named associate asked as Richard slid over an Imperial.
“A little boy in Panama,” Richard said with a smile, then disappeared into the bar’s bathroom for an inordinate amount of time. Powdering his nose, no doubt.
“Oh,” my friend said, half to himself. “Smugglers.” He called it a night shortly thereafter.
But I stayed. Not for the companionship, but for the conversation. After the ladies went off to bed, Richard and I swapped stories over a dozen beers.
There are some folks whom you get along with like a house on fire, and Richard was one such person.
Which was fitting, because the homes across the road quite literally caught fire that night, although that’s a story for another day. Suffice it to say that when I did finally return to my hotel, smelling of smoke and flush with victory from saving many a television and box of textbooks from the raging inferno, Tamarindo had fully woven itself into my life story.
I didn’t know that at the time, of course. I was too busy scaling the gate outside my hotel, having arrived too late to enter through the main door.
The next day was Saint Patrick’s Day. My friend had to work, so I was forced to spend my hours cruising the myriad palm-dappled beach bars. Life is tough, sometimes.
On the subject of St. Patrick, I found my thoughts drifting back to Richard, who told me he had served in Northern Ireland with the British Army. And who did I find at one of the beach bars? Yes, there was Richard, a green streamer wrapped gaily around his shining forehead, holding court in one of the bar’s brighter yet shadier sections.
I don’t recall much of the afternoon that followed. One of Richard’s friends – a real estate agent – tried to convince me to help him settle a little drug misunderstanding with Interpol. And there was a girl, smiling, dancing with a dog in her arms.
At one point, I asked Richard how he found himself there in Tamarindo. There was a woman, he said. And he’d made a hash of it. But there he remained.
I returned home, but I dreamt of moving to Tamarindo to open a bar on the beach. Not just any bar, but a bar for people who wanted to open bars. They could come down, rent the place, make it their own, and get a little taste of that well-worn dream for themselves. And maybe a taste of rum in the process.
I went back years later, bottle of Jameson’s in hand, searching for my mentor. The hostess at Why Not? told me that Richard had been deported to Nicaragua for reasons unknown. I left the bottle and wished him good health.
I went back later still, but could find no sign of the place. No hint that it had ever existed.
One day, after my son was born, I wrote the tale of Ben Cooper, who woke up in a Costa Rican jail cell to find he’d bought a bar on a beach and been arrested for murder. That day I gifted my bar to Ben and his friends.
And I still return to Tamarindo, day after day, to tell their story.
I wonder if one day I’ll find Richard.