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MAGIC AND HIDDEN THINGS / Kevin McDermott THE PART OF HIS JOB Creech used to like least was having to visit Port-au-Prince. Four hours from New York, it may as well have been the dark side of the moon. Approaching the airport the plane would cruise low along the coast, over the pale eroded mountains and silted rivers. The jungle that once covered the country was nearly all gone. A few palm trees waved and nodded on the fringe around the runway of the airport, and above a nearby cluster of small cinderblock houses painted pink and lavender. Creech's last trip was in June, 1987, after the Duvaliers had been tossed out. The army junta running the country seemed, to general amazement, about to deliver on a promise of elections. This was good news for Creech's interests in Port-au-Prince, where his firm sorted several million supermarket coupons a year in a plant leased from a man named Henry Bajeux. Costs were low in Haiti and the short flight time was convenient, but Bajeux had been shut down repeatedly by strikes. Haiti might still make sense if the labor situation stabilized, but if the strikes continued Creech was going to recommend taking the coupons to Mexico before the end of summer. When his plane landed Creech rented a white Ford. The road from the airport to the city went past the barnlike assembly plants where Haiti's only resource—cheap labor—made underwear, baseballs and low-tech gadgets. The road went right past Bajeux's place. Outside his gate a woman had set up shop on a pair of packing crates; she was selling mangoes and bundles of charcoal. She wore a scarf on her head in the brutal sun and her black skirt was tugged modestly over her knees. She was waiting patiently for someone in a car to stop; there were any number of people passing on foot, but they surely had no money to buy. A yard or two from where she sat a grey donkey stood tethered to Bajeux's fence, looking rather unsteady on its legs. It made Creech think of a drunken man. Creech always stayed at the St. Charles, up in the salubrious hills above Port-au-Prince, not quite as far up as Petionville. The St. Charles was on a quiet street of comfortable private homes, many The Missouri Review · 7 in the pretty gingerbread style featured in travel brochures. There was no obvious place to leave his car so Creech simply parked in the gravel drive in front of the hotel; a flashy Mitsubishi jeep was already there ahead of him. A smiling young man appeared from somewhere and immediately reached for his bags. He spoke English and introduced himself as Roger. Roger claimed to be the bellboy. Creech knew that was a lie, but he let him take the bags inside. His suspicions were confirmed in the hostile way in which Mme. St. Charles stared at the kid as they came in. Roger was cowed before her tough gaze, and when Creech slipped him a dollar he dematerialized as abruptly as he had appeared. "Bonjour, madame," said Creech. "Do you remember me? Mr. Creech?" "Bienvenu, Monsieur Creech. Good seeing you again. Have a good trip?" "Very nice. Were you able to save me a corner room?" There was a chance of having a breeze at night in a corner room. "You will be comfortable. Edouard," said Mme. St. Charles, calling to her son. He was in a small office working at a ledger. "Help Mr. Creech." Edouard did as he was told and lugged the bags up three flights of stairs to the room. Creech gave another dollar to him. Rooms at the St. Charles were spare. Two single beds at right angles to each other, a pipe for hanging clothes, a three-drawer bureau. On the bureau was an oscillating fan and a thermos of ice water. The hotel claimed the water was bottled, but Creech would not drink it; pale particles of something suspended in it made him think of human skin or dissolved feces. He unpacked three bottles of Evian he'd brought...


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