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THIRTY
Joseph laughed as he caught himself counting steps as he descended the Bella Vallarta’s stairwell. “Well, Brian,” he said under his breath, shaking his head, “it seems that even as I train you to count steps on a staircase you train me to do the same.” His feet worked double-time as he traveled down to the penultimate step in the stairwell where he paused for a moment, grinned, shook his head, glanced around to make sure no one was watching and hopped over the last step down to the floor declaring, “Thirty-four.”

Stepping through the fire-door and out of the stairwell he beelined to the front desk and finding no one there hesitated as he considered tapping the kitschy bell that would summon an attendant. Deciding that not hitting the bell was silly he raised his hand in anticipation of doing so just as a young woman emerged from the open door of a tiny office that was positioned behind the counter. “Buenos tardes,” she said, adding, “good afternoon. How may I help today?”

“Good afternoon,” Joe replied with a smile and a nod, the nod giving cover as his eyes settled momentarily on the young woman’s nametag, “Alicia. I understand the hotel has bus service to Playa Los Muertos?”

“Si, that is so. Would you like tickets for today?”

“I believe so. How much are they?”

“Round trip tickets are 200 pesos. The bus departs from the Bella on the hour and leaves Playa Los Muertos on the half-hour. Service is from nine in the morning until nine-thirty at night, the bus is airconditioned and, as I said, will return you directly to our front door,” she finished with a smile and raised eyebrows.

“That sounds fine. There are three of us, my wife and young son,” Joe said as he put his credit card on top of the counter.

“How old is your son?” Alicia asked, sliding the credit card her way.

“Brian just turned three yesterday and I’m afraid we abused him by making him spend virtually an entire day either in airplanes or airports.”

“Oh, pobrecito. That had to be very difficult,” she said, brow furrowed in sympathy. “The good news is that you do not need to pay for a ticket for him. Children under five may ride with a parent for free,” she added, looking up with a smile as she handed Joe three bus tickets. “Here is your credit card. Please sign here,” she said, pointing with a pen which she then handed to him.

“Thank you very much. Bus meets right out front?”

“Correcto. And it has been running on time so I would arrive perhaps five before the hour.”

“Perfect. Thank you, Alicia.”

Alicia nodded and with eyes averted stole a glance at the receipt. “You are very welcome, Señor, oh, how do you say your name?”

“Gunnarson. It is Icelandic. Please feel free to call me Joseph or Joe.”

“Thank you, Joseph. It is not hard to say, this Gunnarson, I had just never seen it before,” she replied, again smiling brightly.

 “Muy bien. Gracias,” Joe said, tipping an imaginary hat and placing everything in the pockets of his shorts before turning and bounding up the stairs two at a time.