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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

CDMX - 12. CDMX • XII

“Thank you, Felicia.” Owen placed the potted orchid on the console against the entryway’s narrow wall and double kissed their neighbor. “Where’s Andrés?” The journalist had arrived sans husband.

“Monterrey. He left this morning.” The woman finger brushed a strand of hair away from her face. “But he complained business prevented him from being here. He was looking forward to tasting your family’s wines.”

“We owe you guys.” Owen and CJ had become frequent dinner visitors at the penthouse a few floors above their apartment. “Now that we’ll be getting regular shipments, we’ll open a couple of bottles next time we get together.”

Owen’s brother, Spencer Liston, had sent sufficient wine for the cocktail party and would ship them a case a month for as long as Owen and CJ remained in Mexico.

“Where’s CJ?”

“Right here.” CJ had been standing to the side, listening to the conversation while visiting with Simmone, his coworker. “Welcome to our home, Felicia. Let me introduce you to our friend. Simmone Newman, this is Felicia Barrosa, the fearless reporter I mentioned who found us our place.” Even though she was not as active in the profession anymore, CJ recalled hard, probing questions during her time covering the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. He thought the woman had grit.

“It’s a pleasure, Felicia. So you met CJ while he was in college?”

“I did. And I was impressed he had so much poise while being so young. Reporters weren’t easy on him during most interviews. After my assignment in the United States ended, I made it a point of keeping in touch with him. I was delighted when I found out he and Owen were moving to Mexico City.”

Simmone winked at CJ. “I agree. The way he handles himself, you’d think he was older. Much more mature than more senior people at the embassy.”

“Okay, enough praising CJ. His ego’s large enough already. Felicia, let’s get you some wine.” Owen nodded in Simmone’s direction. “And you look like you could use a refill.”

“Where’s Liebe?” Felicia glanced around the room looking for the girl.

Owen threw a thumb over his shoulder pointing in the opposite direction of the kitchen. “In her bedroom. Our friends Natalie and Elijah brought their son, and Simmone’s daughter, Trixie, is playing with them.”

“Come on, you need a drink. We’ll check on the kids once we hook you up.” CJ snuck an arm through Felicia’s. “I’ll introduce you to the Sinclairs and the other guests. Natalie and Elijah are from New Zealand. He plays rugby with Owen.”

 

CJ and Owen had opened the balcony’s glass doors, allowing guests to enjoy the crisp, late Sunday afternoon weather even if inside. It also provided a place for smokers to congregate. Felicia had asked to meet Luca Biaggi, so CJ escorted her outside.

“Gloria Lujambo’s a close friend, and she’s been keeping me up to date on your school project. It’s good to meet the man bringing our young friend’s dream to life.” Felicia accepted a cigarette and cupped her hand around the lighter held out to her, preventing the wind from extinguishing the flame. “You must sit down with me for an interview.”

“I’m at your disposal. About our mutual friend and host, Isabella didn’t believe me when I mentioned how young CJ was.” Luca tilted his head in his wife’s direction; she was engaged in a lively conversation with Rolando Guerra, one of Owen’s associates at the Nature Conservancy, and Yevgeny Domogarov. “But the man’s relentless when pursuing a goal. I hope our kids have the same drive when they’re his age.”

“You guys are embarrassing me.” CJ shook his head and grinned. “And anyway, It’s not all me. Owen’s a huge part of the project. He planted the initial seed. And my fathers and brother voted in favor of it.”

“Is that because you’re the directors of the foundation Owen mentioned?” Rolando Guerra leaned down to extinguish his cigarette in the crystal ashtray his hosts had placed on a small patio table. “He mentioned it was created by one of your relatives?”

CJ did not feel the need to describe the complex family tree. “It was. A great-great-grandfather. I’m not sure if Owen has mentioned I have two fathers, but both of them, Owen, and I have been on the board for a while. My younger brother joined us when he turned eighteen last year. Getting their approval this time was easy. Ritch said yes when I asked so my dads had no choice but to follow along.” His chuckle was echoed by the others.

“Speaking of your fathers…” Felicia flicked ashes off the balcony’s rail while her gaze shifted between CJ and Luca. “Gloria tells me you’re holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early December. Are they flying in for it?”

“We hope so. They’ll be in California at the end of the month and in Colorado for Christmas. They’re traveling a lot, but Owen and I would like them to visit us.”

“They must come. Andrés and I mentioned to Gloria we would love to hold a small cocktail reception after the grand opening.”

CJ smiled and nodded. Knowing how Felicia operated, the small cocktail reception would magically transform into a large affair, but he would use the Barrosas’ plan as an additional incentive to lure his fathers south of the border. “Then I guess we really need to convince them to attend. Anything else you’re planning I should know about?”

“Nothing else. For now.” The grin told of plans she was not ready to reveal at the moment. “Gloria invited us to attend, claiming we were instrumental in you and her meeting.”

CJ liked Felicia. To others, she might appear as a surgically enhanced gold-digger but the woman was no dummy. Her sharp mind was the reason he had enjoyed dealing with her and why he had remained in touch.

“The same way you were responsible for my meeting them, Felicia.” Yevgeny Domogarov stubbed out his cigarette before kissing her on both cheeks. “I want to hear about this project you’re all involved in. And I hope whatever ceremony you’ve planned will not interfere with the Bolshoi’s opening night. You, Andrés, CJ, and Owen will be my guest for the performance and at the reception at our embassy later that evening.”

CJ was glad Luca and Felicia took it upon themselves to explain matters to the man. After what he had heard about Domogarov, the guy gave him the creeps. He’d have to make sure he let Ambassador Cox and security personnel involved in his briefings know he and Owen would be at the Russian embassy. At first, he had assumed the reception would take place at the theater.

 

“CJ, can you join us for a minute?”

Owen’s grin scared the bejeezus out of CJ. “What are you up to, Ozzie? Not that I don’t trust you, but I don’t trust you.”

“Me, nothing. But Nat and Jah want to play matchmaker.”

“Ummm, did you explain to them we’re already married?” The tongue-in-cheek comment elicited eye rolls.

“Not you, you wanker.” Elijah threw an arm over CJ's shoulders and lowered his voice. “Nat wants to set Calum up with someone from her office.” He nodded in the Australian rugger’s direction. “Anything going on between him and your blond friend?”

On the other side of the room, Calum and Sergeant Austin MacKenzie were engaged in a lively conversation. “Not that I’m aware of. Calum flirted with him when they first met, but I don’t know if it’s progressed from there.” CJ thought getting those two together might be interesting, but for now, he was willing to bide his time and follow along with whatever the Sinclairs planned. There was a little bromance brewing between him and the marine, and he planned to look after Austin. “What exactly are you plotting, Nat? And why are Ozzie and I involved?”

“Because you’ll be part of the setup. The two of you are coming over for dinner next Saturday. Owen already said you’re free that night. There’ll be eight of us. Bring Liebe. We’ll hire a sitter, and they can watch both kids.”

“I never turn down a free meal.” CJ’s agreement brought smiles to his companions’ faces. “Anything I need to do?”

Nat was ready with a reply. “Go distract the blond. I’ll invite Calum. It’ll be easy to convince him when I mention the two of you’ll be there.”

 

CJ and Owen’s first social gathering at their new home in Mexico City was a resounding success. Departing guests thanked them for the hospitality and praised the Liston wines. By the time darkness had fallen outside, only Lincoln, Austin, and Jimmy Chen remained. It was time to dismiss the bartender and get to work.

“Here you go, Elpidio.” CJ handed the man an envelope with his wages. “You were great tonight. Don’t worry about cleaning what’s left. Ozzie and I’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you, Señor Abelló. Call me anytime you need me.” The bartender had confirmed CJ’s suspicions earlier in the day. He knew enough English to carry on a conversation but admitted he disliked using it because his thick accent embarrassed him.

“I’m sure we’ll see you soon.” CJ closed the door and turned to Chen. “Okay, Jimmy, you’re up.”

Given his marching orders, Jimmy headed to CJ and Owen’s bedroom where they had stashed his backpack in a closet. He returned carrying a device about half-a-foot long with several LED lights at one end. “This shouldn’t take long. Don’t try to use your phones, they won’t work for a while. I already activated a jamming signal in case Domogarov left any gifts behind. Oh, and make sure not to use the microwave until I return.”

Jimmy Chen was part of the embassy’s technology department; a handful of people knew, in reality, he worked for the CIA. When Lincoln explained the man would wait somewhere nearby during the reception, Owen would not have it. “He gets to come to the party too, Linc. I’m not gonna have him waiting until it’s dark and sneaking in after everyone’s gone. All anyone needs to know is he works at the embassy with CJ.”

Considering Jimmy had not been in Mexico City very long, and had not been involved in any activities that could raise suspicion about his occupation, his boss acquiesced. They considered the possibility of Domogorov knowing about him infinitesimal.

With Liebe asleep, and the tech doing his thing, CJ, Owen, Lincoln, and Austin finished picking up the place. In the process, they killed off any wine bottles not entirely empty.

“That was fun, guys. Thanks for inviting me.” Austin swallowed the remains of his glass.

“We’re glad you enjoyed yourself, bud.” CJ held up one of the bottles they had accumulated on the kitchen counter to the light. “Who wants like two gulps of Shiraz?”

Lincoln grabbed it out of his hand before CJ could utter another word. “What’s up with you and Calum?” He stared at Austin while grinning. “The two of you stuck to each other most of the night. Have you asked him out yet?”

The marine toed the ground while shaking his head. “Nope. But tonight he did ask me when my next day off was.” Austin looked uncomfortable. “Look, guys, a few people at the embassy know I’m gay, but I’m still in the closet back home. I’ve never asked a man out on a date, and I’m not sure how to do it right.”

“Nothing to it, dude. Both of you are jockish; ask him to go running with you and take it from there. He sure as shit seems interested in you.” CJ felt no guilt about discussing Calum with the marine after agreeing to set the Aussie up on a blind date. Whoever it was Natalie wanted him to meet, would have to be an incredible catch to compare with Austin.

CJ slid open a cabinet and began dropping empty bottles into the recycling bin. Mexico City had a massive trash problem that was partially caused by residents’ resistance to recycling. To encourage them to do so, the city offered food vouchers in exchange for recyclable waste.

On the first Sunday of the month, the municipality held an outdoor market in Bosque de Chapultepec. Individuals could trade their trash for green points, redeeming those for seasonal produce from local farmers peddling their goods at the fair.

“Not easy, CJ. I’ve been more open here than back in the U.S., and I’m constantly worried somehow it’ll get back to my parents.” Austin’s sigh carried the weight of the world in it. “I come from a small town, and I’m afraid of losing friends if they find out.”

CJ tried not to be glib. “Dude, listen to me. At fifteen, I was forced out of the closet by my step-father, and although it was painful as shit at the time, I’ve realized it was probably the best thing that could have happened. I learned who my real friends were. Keep in mind something my dads repeatedly told me: ‘Those that matter won’t care, and those who care don’t matter.’

“Returning home after your stint in the corps shouldn’t be scary because of your sexual orientation. If it makes it any easier, once you separate from service, consider moving to Washington. We’ve got room for you until you find your own place, and we guarantee you’ll have a job day one if you want it. Our family owns a real estate development company and a bunch of small, related businesses. Since Papa’s a jarhead, they give preferential treatment to veterans when hiring.”

“CJ’s right, mate. I didn’t come out as early as he did, but any fears I had were unfounded. True, he and I were lucky that way, but now you know you have alternatives if you face rejection.”

“They’re on point, buddy.” Lincoln draped an arm over the marine’s shoulders. “You have no idea the uproar my coming out caused back home. Stereotypes being what they are, people had trouble accepting someone as big and dark as I am would be gay. Most of them got over it. The ones who didn’t are no longer in my life.

“By the way, CJ, I was impressed with the background music. Billie, Ella, Etta, Roberta, Anita… Badu didn’t really fit in, but it was good to hear ‘Tyrone.’ I love that song.” Lincoln flashed him a grin. “You a closet brother?”

“Fuck you, big guy. I thought we just got done discussing how closets aren’t a good place to live in.” CJ’s punch harmlessly bounced off the man’s massive bicep. “I figured if we were serving Australian wines, we needed American music. And those ladies are some of our best ever.” His appreciation for Holiday, Fitzgerald, James, Flack, and Baker had been acquired by listening to what his fathers played on sedate occasions. Erykah Badu had made the cut thanks to the song Lincoln mentioned.

The conversation came to an end when the kitchen’s door swung inwards and Jimmy joined them. “I was quiet when I did your daughter’s room, didn’t turn on the light, and used a flashlight instead. That kid can sleep through anything.”

“Yeah, except sunrise. Even with the room blacked out, she’ll walk into our room at bloody dawn. Thank goodness CJ’s an early morning person. He’s usually up getting ready to go running.”

Jimmy methodically walked around the room, the black device held in one hand, while the three men looked on in silence. His frown deepened when he ran it over a basket full of fruit. Reaching underneath, he removed a tiny black disk and tossed it on the counter.

“All done. No cameras, but a listening device in every room.” Reaching into his sport coat’s pocket, he added about a dozen others to the one from the kitchen. “Let me throw these in a bag, and I’ll turn off the jamming signal.” He retrieved a mylar envelope from his other pocket.

“MOTHERFUCKER!” CJ jumped out of his seat. “I’m gonna kill the bastard. He put one in Liebe’s room?”

“Yes, sir. Attached to her changing table. It’s safe to use your phones again if you need to.”

“Thank you, Jimmy.” Owen looked and sounded apprehensive. “What… what do we do now?”

“Nothing, Mr. Liston. Although I’m sure I found all of them, I’d like to do another sweep tomorrow. In daylight. How can I access your apartment?”

“I’ll be here. I work from home most days.”

“Do you have a housekeeper?”

“Yeah, Infanta takes care of Liebe during the day.”

“I’d prefer she not be aware of what’s going on. Any chance we can get her out for about an hour?”

“That’s easy. She usually takes Liebe to the park around ten.”

“Perfect. I’ll be back tomorrow morning. I’ll call you to make sure the coast’s clear.” Jimmy turned his attention to CJ. “As for you, Mr. Abelló, I’d like you to omit mention of the devices I found from your contact report. We’ll include that in a one-page attachment. The regular report’s seen by too many people.”

“Okay…” CJ’s mind reeled. His activism had led to Felicia throwing them a party and the Russian spy taking an interest in them. But hell if he was going to change his ways. One asshole stalking them was not going to alter their lives. “I’m guessing we can’t tell anyone about this.”

“That’s correct. Once you file your report, come find me. We’ll talk to my boss about what he wants us to do. If anything.”

Lincoln chuckled. “Oh, boy. Northman’s gonna love you disappearing first thing Monday morning.”

“That’s your supervisor, right?” Jimmy asked.

CJ nodded. Realizing he was talking to a spy, he tried to keep his disdain for Northman out of his response. “Yep. He’s not keen on my social life or my extracurricular activities.”

“He’s on the distribution list for your contact reports.”

It was a statement, not a question. CJ realized Jimmy would be aware of who received those filings. “Yeah…”

“If you want to avoid a confrontation, let him know you’re meeting with me. Anyone who hears can assume it’s because you’re having a technology issue. He’ll know not to question you.”

Owen raised an eyebrow at the same time CJ smirked. “Any idea why the Russian wanker’s taken such interest in CJ and me?”

Jimmy sighed. “You guys made a splash when you arrived, and they’ll follow any ripple. Even though we have complicated interactions, Mexico and the U.S. are allies. We know the Russians would like to destabilize our relationship. They supply arms to narco traffickers and encourage the hopeless in Central America to make the treacherous voyage to the border. We’ve found evidence they offer cash incentives to help pay for passage through Mexico to our border. Their efforts to hurt us aren’t limited to cyber-attacks or nukes in missile silos.”

“Bloody hell! And we’re caught in the middle of this crap? How can we avoid the same thing happening again?”

Jimmy cracked a smile. “You could stop being rich, good-looking, and charitable.”

“Fuck you and fuck that shit. Hell if we’re gonna let those assholes dictate how we live.” CJ looked at Owen to ensure they were on the same page and received a nod. “You tell us what we need to do, and we’re both in.”

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow, Mr. Abelló, but I’m pretty sure we’ll want to install military-grade software in all your electronic devices to prevent hacking.”

 

Once their three final guests departed, CJ and Owen ensured the balcony and front doors were locked. A touch of paranoia may have guided their actions.

“Tomorrow morning I’m stressing to building security not to allow anyone up to our place without calling first. Even if they know the person.” CJ mumbled his comment through a mouthful of toothpaste. “And we need to remind Infanta not to let anyone in unless she knows them well.”

Owen nodded as he finished drying his face. “I know you, CJ. I don’t care how pissed you are at the Russians, you will not turn into Jack Ryan. You hear me?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” CJ was a fan of the Tom Clancy books, the movies, and the TV show based on them. “You forget Jack’s fictional. We aren’t. It’s not like we’re somebody’s characters in a novel.”

Copyright © 2021 Carlos Hazday; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you to my support team, you improved the story. Any remaining errors are my responsibility. And thank you to all readers for supporting me. I hope to hear from you.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

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I miss interacting with readers. And since CDMX won't be published for a while, how about a look at part of chapter one?  
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