We’d flown into a Mexican coastal resort without hotel reservations. On the wretched stretch of road between airport and town, we chatted up our cab driver — gushing over family photos pasted across his dashboard — then sought advice as to where we might find shelter.
“Busy. Nearly full,” he answered, but soon had an idea: a charming villa, attached hotels, atop the hill. Sounds good, we said.
“They’ll try to tell you there are no rooms available,” our driver predicted. “Don’t believe it. There is always one.”
“Cierto? Como puede ser eso?” For sure? How can that be?
“You might not want to stay there,” he cautioned. “It’s bigger than a cuarto, more like a… suite, definitely expensive.” His estimate was barely twice that charged for a Motel 6 cell North of the border. “Tambien, there is history behind it, but if you aren’t uncomfortable with things like that, mention Cuarto Cero-Cero.”
Room Double Zero? Wouldn’t Bond stack chips on that felt square at the roulette table, pocket his winnings, then retire to such a suite? The driver hinted vaguely at further unspoken, crypto-numerological voodoo. We tipped him extravagantly and made confident noises, stepping through the hotel entryway — an elegantly rustic, chipped-stone arch.
As expected, the desk clerk initially stated, with personal devastation and extravagant sympathy, that there were no unoccupied rooms.
“Nada de nada?” we pressed. Alas: ninguna.
“Pero… Que pasa con Cuarto Cero-Cero?”
This ignited an absurd, lengthy discourse, odd especially because the hotelier appeared now to be pleading with us. He never denied “00” existed. We inquired bluntly if there was a problem with it.
He gesticulated impotently, then waved dismissively, while muttering, “Of course not.” “Well, assuming it’s vacant, we’ll take it.
That induced another round of chin-pulling, forehead furrows, rumination, and concern. The functionary whimpered, frowned, bent forward, preparing to deliver a history lesson, in confidential tones.
“These two hotels, at first, were one. Built for Señor Perez and inherited upon El Jefe’s unfortunate passing by his two sons. Halves of the hotel, planned from the start, were the same, yet opposite. Señor Perez wanted their wings constructed as mirror images. Each has precisely as many rooms. The floor plans naturally are reversed. Materials, the workmanship — absolutely and invariably equal and exact.
“Thinking little of it, Señor Perez bequeathed one side of the property to each boy — east/west, right/left, straight down the middle. Then lawyers examined the will and determined he’d not specified which son received which half. Even if he hadn’t, one wondered, so what?
“But this caused the boys — pardon me, the heirs; they were by then already in their late twenties — to worry the other would possess more. Each suspected his brother of getting the better deal. Many reinforcement lawyers arrived, and then accountants, and for a brief period the entire hotel was closed. When reopened, it had become two, not one. Since that time the Patron’s sons do not speak.”
He sleeved perspiration, shaking his head remorsefully. We took on an appropriately somber mien, but tried to assess the current status of Cuarto Cero-Cero. Another monologue began behind the desk.
“Cuarto Cero-Cero is, I would say, our finest accommodation. When not at his estate, Señor Perez himself long ago spent nights there on occasion. But it sits precisely at the center; unclaimable by either side.”
He shrugged, stoically: a “nothing-I-can-do” gesture.
“Can Cero-Cero be rented?”
“If a guest requests it, we are permitted to rent it, yes,” he replied.
“Why is this all so complicated? So secretive?”
“Because of the hill’s steep grade, and Señor Perez’s insistence on two identical opposing wings, a small middle area was isolated above connecting hallways, now blocked from one another.
“To avoid waste, it was there that Cuarto Cero-Cero was created. Following the legal division, as things now stand, in technical terms, it belongs to neither left nor right.”
This sounded like either the De-Militarized or Twilight Zone.
“So when — or if — Cero-Cero has a tenant, the brothers would theoretically split the rent?”
He morosely confirmed our assumption, and elaborated.
“That disturbs them, as they are copied on receipts bearing the other’s name. Their estrangement now runs long and is very deep. We are not allowed to offer the suite unless it is asked for.
Symbolically, it has, so to speak, no number. Two absences of numbers.”
We formally, forcefully, made our request.
“Cuarto Cero-Cero, por favor. Con permiso.”
Increasingly dour, the clerk described some difficulties which were associated with that choice. For example, there was inconvenient access to either of the bifurcated hotels. Cero-Cero did, however, have a private staircase, leading to the beach, and from there one could climb alternate routes back up to left or right.
He confided that the brothers had also neglected to seal off an over-grown garden path connecting the suite with the Western establishment. Double Zero itself was lovely, he reiterated, and by nature blameless, but bore a stigma of sadness and discord. Was this of concern?
We speculated it was not, but said we’d test the psychic waters and let him know. Then he dropped a financial bombshell.
“Although it is a suite, I can charge only the rate for a room.”
“We’re perfectly willing to pay the price for a suite.”
“I have no doubt. But a consequence is required tax documents, which the brothers would be obliged to co-sign.”
Plane-weary, sweaty, frustrated, we grew eager to see, with luck even lease, short-term, the space generating such controversy.
A crudely-printed form, extended, completed; bank-note slid below likely doubling the deskman’s daily earnings.
“Agradecido,” he murmured, nodding crisply, tapping the thin metal clapper of an antique bell on the marble before him. A hunched, liveried dwarf instantaneously materialized. “Cuarto Cero-Cero,” the clerk declared with a sigh of resignation, bending for a key-ring.
The compact bellman’s brows rose. His eyes shifted to luggage. We chased him across a verandah, beneath a trellis, through fragrant foliage, to what resembled a jungle dance-floor, laid out like a “V,” equipped with two hammocks, and several weathered pieces of furniture.
“Cero-Cero,” he proclaimed, unenthusiastically, freeing bolts on a hefty carved hardwood door, depositing our bags inside. Keys were exchanged for pesos. He hustled hastily back up the untrimmed trail.
Cuarto Cero-Cero, somewhat musty, was palatial: six tall, wide rooms of stucco, adobe, and tile. Random, rounded niches displayed crockery and figurines fired from barro negro, the local black clay.
Nothing/Nothing, curiously configured, impressed. Immaculately-set glazed-brick partitions separated kitchen and dining areas. Broad-bladed ceiling fans had been installed everywhere but the bathroom.
That expansive “dance-floor” turned out to be Cero-Cero’s deck, practically a plaza, which provided a view of the Bay if you occupied one hammock, a Pacific panorama if you swung in the other.
Heading down from the Bay-view side, 114 masterfully sculpted, secured stone slabs snaked to sand and sea.
Double Zero’s phone sounded, an alto twin-chirp. Dead-pan man at the desk, inquiring whether the premises might prove suitable.
“Perfecto. El mejor,” we enthused.
“Bueno,” he responded, but his tone suggested los hermanos Perez would not be happy, that familial recriminations lay ahead.
At lunch in the Eastern wing, our attentive waiter commented that room service to Cuarto Cero-Cero was a rarity, involving certain complications, though decidedly not out of the question. With la cuenta, he left a card highlighting his name and direct line.
Just before sunset, hours later, there was a knock. Dapper but wilted, we found him gasping under a massive tray, weighted down by raw materials, plus thick, tinted, hand-blown vessels necessary for concoction and containment of tequila-based beverages. There were also many colorful plates of caloric regional delicacies. Together, we arranged them on the V-shaped deck.
Satiated and suspended in adjoining hammocks, we toasted first the cab driver and his family; sent a Salud or two toward the conflicted concierge; and applauded fortuitous happenstance overall. As the Cuervo Centenario cactus-extract took full effect, we even raised glasses to those embittered and regrettably estranged Perez brothers.
It seemed clear an unresolvable feud would forever divide them. They’d live out envy-driven days, in self-imposed exile from Cero-Cero, the intended centerpiece of their inheritance.