As near as I can understand what happened, the Smiths arrived by plane and left by box. The box was on a plane, but the Smiths, newly dead, didn’t know that. Come to think of it, the Smiths were “newly” a lot of things. Well, that’s over.

They weren’t very interesting people. When I was in the States, I’d seen a lot of their kind. Nouveau riche, they were called. Mr. Smith, Bud she called him, had just struck it rich in microchips. I know that because Bud told me as they were checking in.

“I just made a bundle in microchips.”

“Good for you, sir,” I said, not wanting this dialogue to go too far because I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about. “It is nice to make a bundle, no matter in what.”

“Sure is. I’m only 29, too.”

“A good age for having a bundle, sir. Are these all of your bundles?” I said, pointing to his matched luggage sitting in the middle of my lobby.

“My luggage, yes. Six pieces. Louie Vuitton.”

“Ramon Lopez, pleased to meet you Mr. Vuitton,” I said extending my hand. Well, Bud quickly clarified the name business and signed the register. Personally, I preferred Vuitton to Smith, but that was his affair.

Bud and Celeste, his wife, were a bouncy energetic couple, eager and enthusiastic to “explore the country and the natives,” as he said. I told him as politely as I could that while the country was just as eager to be explored, I had some reservations about the natives. I could speak from experience, having been a native since birth and having to contend with the odd visit from Americans whenever the rains stopped. Well, the rains had just stopped and there were Bud and Celeste.

“We especially want to see the Great Swamps. Do you think you could arrange it for tomorrow? We’ll need native guides.”

“Everyone here except you are natives. It won’t be a problem.”

Since the Smiths were the only guests of my hotel, I made it a point of offering my services as a guide to the town and to be my guests for dinner.

“We’d love to,” Celeste said eagerly. Knowing my little town, I wondered how exciting their lives had been until now. I knew the States, at least the California part. In my youth, I had wet-backed all the way from my tiny town in the remotest part of my country right through Berkeley, getting my degree in eastern religions. It was a hectic time, my time in Berkeley, but my Zen studies pulled me through. In fact, they still pull me through whenever things get a little crazy in my tiny town.

Take the other day when we had the big coconut price war. Ernesto and his younger brother Julio had decided that there wasn’t enough room in town for two coconut farms, so they decided to cut the price of their coconuts in an effort to force their cousin Juan to fold up his coconut farm. Well, sir, Juan would have nothing to do with quitting, so he fought back and cut his prices. Ernesto and Julio, although shocked by Juan’s countermove, cut prices again. Juan followed suit. By then everyone was aware they were witnessing a rarity in this tiny town: a price war. While they were enthralled, I was dumbfounded. I mean, all anyone had to do was walk five feet out of our tiny town and find all the coconuts you’d ever want lying all over the ground at the feet of thousands of unfarmed, wild growing coconut trees. It was like living in Alaska and lining up to buy snow, but they did it. The citizens of my tiny town proved to me once and for all they need to be educated as to the ways of the supply side curves.

But that’s for another time. For now, understand that nothing much happens in my tiny town, so escorting the Smiths around town pretty much meant showing them a conquistador cannon lying rusting in a mangrove and the outside of the village church. We couldn’t go into the church because there wasn’t any “in”; the “in” waiting for more funds from the state scheduled to arrive within the decade. For now, we only had an “out,” and that would have to do.

“Nice town you have here, Ramon, if I may call you that.”

“You already did, so I guess it’s alright. Just make sure you don’t befoul it; it’s the only name I have.”

“Not to worry. From now on, I will only call your name in an emergency.”

He may have thought he was kidding the native, but little did Bud realize how truthful that was. But that’s for later. For now you should understand that I thought Bud and Celeste to be okay people. They seemed shallow and jejune, but here in my tiny town, once the rains stop, we are familiar with such people. In fact, we have a name for them: Americans.

These people, these Americans, come here to get away from their daily pressures, to get back to the basics, to go primitive, to commune with nature, to get centered, to get high on life, to see the stars, to see the sun, to explore, to find the exotic, you name it, they want it, and they want it now because their plane back to the States leaves in two, three, four days, tops. No problem for me. I have the only hotel and it only has one room and the plane that takes them back always has new ones arriving and we’ve set up the airport terminal so that the arrivees never see the departees so that no American ever thinks any other American has stayed here. This has quite a cache among their friends, this idea that what they’ve done in life is unique. I understand Louis Vuitton operates on the same principle with his dresses.

“So tell me, señor, why does the church have no insides?” Bud asked me that night over a dinner of chicken and rice. “And by the way,” he continued, “I love the chicken and rice.”

“Me too,” cooed Celeste.

“That is not simply chicken and rice, Bud.” I lied, but since the Smiths made a point of coming to my tiny town, I felt they should get more than they bargained for. Chicken and rice it was, is, and always will be in my tiny town, because we haven’t money to get anything else. The people of my tiny town would have loved to have gotten a reprieve from the daily chicken and rice to scarf down a piece of beef, to nibble on a lamb chop, to salivate over baby asparagus in butter sauce, but without more pesos, we get chicken and rice. Since the Smiths have more money than my entire tiny town, they are entitled to more than chicken and rice. That is how our chickens and rice became wild, range free, organically-fed game hens, and our rice became mango- and guava-saturated risotto. The Smiths loved it. Smacked their lips, they did.

“Isn’t this your national dish?” Celeste asked. She had had two helpings of the game hen and risotto by then.

“You certainly know your food, Mrs. Smith.”

“Oh, call me Celeste.”

“You certainly know your food, Celeste. It is very impressive and refreshing to find someone who takes such great interest in her surroundings.”

“My wife is amazing at knowing her surroundings. She decorated our house without any help from a decorator and it is fabulous. Maybe she could help you around the hotel. Hints and such about the decoration. Or maybe the food. How about it, Celeste? Señor? I mean it’s a natural.”

Bud and Celeste were such a nice couple.

The following morning, there they were, Bud and Celeste, in their swamp-exploring clothes. Celeste looked lovely in her pale green jumpsuit and pith helmet; Bud looked rugged in his high-laced boots, earthen-colored jump suit with dark brown piping around the pockets, his pith helmet at a jaunty angle over his eyes. I thought they may have been a tad overdressed what with Celeste wearing her diamond earrings and Bud his Rolex watch, but they would hear none of it.

“These were a present from Bud for my last anniversary. I’ll never take them off. And I got Bud that Rolex. He wears it everywhere, don’t you, Buddy, Buddy?” Well, I tried.

Luis and Hector were to be the Smith’s guides and were waiting for them in the lobby at 7AM. It was wise to begin before it became too warm and the mosquitoes came out. So out the Smiths, clothes, diamonds, Rolexes and all, went with Luis and Hector on a flat-bottomed four man canoe into the swamps surrounding my tiny town.

It was Luis and Hector who returned with the sorrowful story of what happened out there.

“Well, I’ll tell you what happen,” Luis said when he and Hector returned without the Smiths. Luis did most of the talking; Hector added a si every once in while, but I’ll leave those out of the description to make things flow smoother. Hector is a lovely fellow, but not much on talk.

“So,” Luis continued, “we go out in the canoe. It is early, the mosquitoes, they not out yet. The water is calm. The alligators, even they are asleep. So we move slow-like up the water. I point to a tree, I don’t know one from another, you know, put I point and say something in Spanish they not understand, something about my oldest boy, Pablo, and the Smiths, they get all excited, very impressed about how much I know, but I think they all excited about how much they think they learning so they can go back to America and tell their friends about their trip through the jungle. So I point out a couple of trees, some grasses, you know, to keep it interesting.

“After about an hour, I see alligator in the water and tell the Smiths. Well, they go crazy excited. ‘Where, where,’ the lady shrieks, while the mister grabs his camera and starts pointing it at everything but where the alligators are. Me and Hector almost fall outta the canoe, it so funny, but good thing we don’t because sure enough, there were plenty alligator in that water. I say to the Smiths maybe we should turn ’round. Or go to some other part of the swamp, but the mister he just keeps shooting his camera off and the missus she just so happy she keep on giggling so we keep on paddling up the swamp.

“That’s when this big bull alligator decides he wants to catch a ride in our canoe so he puts his big beak into the boat and one claw. The missus starts in to shriek again, the mister moves toward the ‘gator, Hector, he gets his rifle out, and I start paddling like hell and trying to keep the canoe from going over. Well, next think you know, the missus is standing up screaming, she so scared. She screaming and screaming then topples and falls into the water. The mister starts screaming and jumps in to save her. Before he hits the water, he yells something nasty about you, Ramon, about the hotel, too, but I’m not sure what.

“Anyway, Hector sees two big ‘gators right about where the Smiths hit the water, so he starts to shoot at the alligators, but misses them and hits the mister in the head and the missus in the chest. They start to bleed, the ‘gators move in by the dozen, and me and Hector we get the hell out of there. And that’s what happened to the Smiths. Pretty bad, hey?”

That’s their story and they stick to it. But I’m not sure. About a month after this whole thing, Luis’ wife, Carmen, begins to wear a pair of beautiful diamond earrings and Hector starts to wear a beautiful Rolex watch. Now, putting diamonds on Carmen is like putting stained glass windows on a dung heap. And giving Hector a Rolex is like taking a blind man to a museum. Hector not only can’t tell time, he can’t barely read or sign his name.

But you have to admit it is a wonderful thing that in my tiny town where I am its most successful man and I only own two shirts, Luis and Hector were able to save enough money to buy such beautiful things. And through the mail as well, because if we have a shop to sell such things in my tiny town, nobody has shown it to me yet.

But it really doesn’t bother me much. I lost two days of bookings when Bud and Celeste didn’t return from their exploration of the land and the natives, but the next couple, the Glicks, did very well here. I showed them the cannon, the outside of the church. They bought some crap from the craft shop that old man Perez has shipped in from Union City in New Jersey. The Glicks loved the place and promised to tell their friends.