‘Follow the guidelines, please and there will be no trouble.’
This was the tour guide. Dressed in a polo shirt with an indeterminable logo, cargo pants, and hiking boots, he looked the part. Even down to his wide-rimmed sun hat that covered his stick-out ears and the fat flab at the back of his neck.
‘Should we make a run for it?’ Marty asked me. We were at the back of the group, behind the plodding older couple, and the young family with three kids, the youngest in a Bugaboo pram. There were four millennials trailling behind the guide, chatting his ear off. We couldn’t hear what they were saying; we were too far at the rear. Now would be a prime moment to leave unnoticed.
‘Yeah, let’s get outta here,’ I responded. Marty reached for my hand, grasped it tightly and pulled me backwards into a doorway.
‘We’ll just hide in here for a few minutes then go back the way we came. Yeah?’
A minute took an hour as we waited in the alcove.
‘We should be good now,’ Marty said. He poked his head around the corner of the alcove; excessive, I thought. Not as if we were being chased by bad guys with guns, starring in our own action movie. ‘Yep, come on!’
We ran back along the path we’d just trod. Past the whimsical water feature, the gardens with tulips and hollyhocks and irises, past the kiosk and all the tables and market umbrellas, past a new group with another guide. I stopped running.
He was almost at the gift shop, just a few paces ahead of me.
‘What is it?’
‘Did you notice that guide?’
‘No. Come on, it’s this way,’ he motioned towards the shop. It was crowded with people browsing before leaving the complex. Some were at the checkout, guilted into spending $45 a tiny plush toy for their screaming, entitled child.
‘Wait. Something’s not right here.’
‘That’s why we’re leaving!’ He walked back to where I was standing. ‘What is it?’
‘That tour guide. He was dressed differently to ours.’
‘And the guidelines.’ I was mumbling more to myself now. Everything was falling into place and my thoughts were tumbling out, unfiltered. Marty paced beside me.
‘He mentioned something about guidelines. There aren’t any. Well, I mean there’s rules to follow, but the complex doesn’t specifically use that word.’
‘Becky, it doesn’t matter. Let’s go!’
‘I think our group is in trouble, Marty. I feel it in my gut.’ I wrung my hands together. Sweat formed on my brow.
‘OK, well, let’s call the police. Once we’re outside.’
I wasn’t convinced. I wanted to go back. To find them. They were in danger, of that I was sure.
‘Becky,’ Marty said. ‘I’m not going back. I’m just not.’ He shook his head; his eyes were dark, the size of saucers. ‘I’ll call the police from the front.’
‘Grab that pamphlet, will you?’ I asked, ignoring what he’d just said.
I scanned the tri-fold brochure. As I suspected, there were rules for patrons to follow while onsite, but the word guidelines was not used.
‘Marty, we have to go back. I think we might be the only ones who know whereabouts they are.’
‘This is information we can pass onto the police. We shouldn’t get involved.’ He was holding my shoulders gently, his words and actions imploring me to listen. ‘Honey, if you’re right, then us being here, outside, and phoning the police is the best chance that group has.’
‘I’m right. If we go back for them, then they’ve got no hope.’
‘Can we at least tell the manager on the way out?’
‘Of course. Now, let’s go.’
I stopped at the counter to ask for the manager, while Marty went outside to call 000. I told the manager my suspicions and that we’d called the police.
‘Thank you for your attention to this matter,’ the manager said. ‘You’ve done the right thing. If you could please wait outside so that the police can question you further once they arrive. Is that OK?’
I looked out to Marty. He was sitting on a bench, playing with his phone.
‘Of course. I’ll be outside with Marty if you need me.’
I wandered out to join Marty; we sat together in silence. Our narrow escape loomed large. My imagination conjured scenarios of unspeakable acts. Tears fell down my cheeks. Marty slung his arm around me and pulled me close.