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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 - 13. CDMX • XIII

On Monday, CJ arrived at the embassy a little earlier than usual. He wanted to prepare the contact report for the previous day and get his meeting with Jimmy Chen over with before Stephen Northman could complain too much. His luck faltered. He had just completed the paperwork, and sent Northman a message explaining he had a meeting first thing in the morning, when the man once again surprised him with a stealthy approach.

“What’s the meeting about, Mr. Abelló?” Northman stood at the entrance to his cubicle.

“Good morning, Mr. Northman.” He was determined not to match his supervisor’s rudeness. “I’m sorry, sir, but I was directed not to discuss the matter with anyone.” Chen had also instructed him to omit mentioning the listening devices from his primary report. He, CJ, and Lincoln would prepare a separate one for the security section and the ambassador.

The man appeared surprised and upset. “What exactly do you mean you can’t discuss it? Have you forgotten you report to me?”

“No.” CJ could not restrain himself and his snarky response. “How could I? You constantly remind me of it, sir.”

Northman went from looking upset to borderline apoplectic. His face flushed and his mouth hung open for a moment. “Your insolence’s one of the reasons I have to constantly reiterate it, Mr. Abelló. Don’t think because the ambassador’s enamored of your little school project you’re above the rest of us. I will not ignore your disrespect.”

CJ’s calm veneer crumbled. He had promised Owen he would not allow Northman to needle him, but there was no way he could ignore that statement. “Are you threatening me, Mr. Northman? You perceiving a factual statement as being disrespectful better not lead to retaliation. I don’t want to have to file a complaint with human resources.” He did not add he was certain Northman would lose if he tested CJ’s patience much longer.

Silence reigned for a few moments. Northman might have been accustomed to intimidating others with his position, but CJ was not about to play the game. He locked his computer, stood, and reached for his suit’s coat. “If you have nothing else for me, I need to get to my meeting.” Slipping his arms into the jacket, CJ’s malevolent streak had him add a final statement. “If you need me, I’ll be in Jimmy Chen’s office. He suggested you call him if you had questions.”

 

Jimmy grinned when CJ recounted the interaction with Northman. “He always struck me as a social climber. Not being invited to your little soirée, when others at the embassy were and talked about it, probably irked him some. My guess? The man’s jealous of your wealth, education, and social status.”

“I just wish he would let me do my job without constantly looking over my shoulder. Literally. I’ve caught him standing outside my cubicle a couple of times just staring. Kinda creepy to be honest.”

“Not sure what to tell you, CJ. But if it’s any consolation, the ambassador and a few other big wigs are quite pleased with you. You gotta remember I hear a lot of what goes on around here. Someone said they’d never seen a greenhorn weave their way into a community as quickly, efficiently, and gracefully as you have. You’re doing a good job.”

“Thanks… I have a temper and sometimes the urge to deck the fucker’s nearly overwhelming.”

Jimmy’s laughter was restrained but his eyes danced with mirth. “Save the aggression for your Tuesday sparring sessions.”

CJ was dumbfounded. “You know about those?”

What part of ‘I hear a lot of what goes on around here’ did you not get? I know for a fact there are a handful of marines who think of you as a fellow jarhead.”

“Probably ’cause they get to beat me up and send me home to Owen bruised.” A couple of times he had been so sore he had soaked in a hot Epsom salts bath to relax the muscles.

“Not what I heard, my friend. I understand you get your licks in too.” Jimmy had been reading CJ’s report on his computer while carrying on the conversation. “This is good. When do you think you’ll run into Domogarov again?”

“Next month? He invited us to opening night when the Bolshoi’s in town and to the reception at their embassy afterward.”

“That’s right. I remember now. You mentioned that invite in your initial filing. Opening night and a visit to the Russian embassy… I’m impressed!” He sounded it.

“Don’t be. And don’t be an ass about it. After figuring out who he was, I wanted to exclude him from our wine tasting and find an excuse to decline the ballet invite, but the Ambassador ordered me not to.”

“She’s a smart cookie, CJ. You pay attention to how Cox does things, and you’ll get an advanced education in diplomacy. The moment she found out about your initial contact with Domogarov, she came to talk to us in person.”

CJ assumed Jimmy meant the CIA and not the IT department. “That’s surprising.”

“Don’t let her fool you. I’ve heard people say she’s flighty and dopey, constantly smiling at everyone, but they’re wrong. Very wrong. She’s a tough cookie. The woman’s pulse beats in tandem with the embassy’s. Even if she plays dumb at times, she’s aware of everything,”

“I do like her. She’s interrupted Northman’s diatribes a couple of times, saving me from further harassment. Each time, all she did was praise me for something the guy was berating me about. He couldn’t contradict her and dropped the matter. It always feels like she strolls in innocently, but she gets me off the hook.”

“Did I mention she can be devious? It’s probably an act. As long as Northman does his job, she won’t complain. But she’ll also stop him from stepping over the line with those he supervises.”

“Good to know.” CJ glanced at his watch. “You’re gonna have to leave soon if you plan to meet Ozzie. What do you want me to do about Domogarov?”

Jimmy leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “Nothing for now. We discussed several scenarios when the ambassador brought the matter to our attention, but those may be discarded. Bugging your apartment escalated matters, and we have to rethink how to respond. With you guys going to the Russian embassy, it might be a good opportunity for a little payback. Domogarov’s a thorn in a lot of people’s sides; maybe we can discredit him and ship him back to Mother Russia.”

CJ’s apprehension must have bled into his expression.

“Don’t worry. We won’t have you or your husband do anything that could endanger your family.”

“Thank you. Ozzie and Liebe are my world, and I’ll do anything to keep them safe.”

“I’ll let you know when I’m ready, and we’ll set up a time to meet with Lincoln.”

Returning to his desk, CJ marveled at how an innocent welcome-to-Mexico reception had left him working counterintelligence with the CIA and FBI, and plotting against a Russian FSB station chief.

Tuesday after work, Austin and two other marines greeted CJ with huge smiles as he walked into the training room. When they stood ramrod straight and saluted him, he had no idea why.

“What’s that for? You forget I’m not military? That’s my father and my brother.”

Austin reached into his bag and withdrew the DVD CJ had given him when he left the wine tasting at his home. “I watched this when I got back from your place, Then I watched it again last night with these two”he tilted his head in his companions’ direction“and a couple others.”

“I’m not ashamed to admit all of us teared up.” One of the guys offered him a handshake. “Thank you.”

CJ was confused. “What for? I didn’t do anything. It was my friend, Brad, who put his heart and soul into the documentary while recovering from his injuries.”

“Respectfully, sir, I call bullshit.” The black dude who usually beat CJ up the most offered him a fist. “We read through the credits in slo-mo, and we googled the fuck out of the documentary, you, your husband, and your fathers. We didn’t discover much on them, but you have a nice Wikipedia page to your name.”

“I have nothing to do with that. Someone started it at some point, and I think my college buddy, Carson, keeps an eye on it.”

The marine’s stare was soul-piercing. “I grew up in a homophobic household and have never cottoned up much to gays. You seemed like a cool brother when you started working with us, but I never said anything. Last night, I couldn’t cuss my parents enough for the crap they taught me and my brothers and sisters.

“The fact four gay men cared enough about veterans, people they didn’t know, proved my parents were full of shit. Man, you have my respect and my gratitude.”

CJ blushed. He felt embarrassed by the praise but also humbled the man had such a reaction to something he had been part of creating. “Thank you…” He twisted the disc in his hand, surprised at the reaction the men described, unsure what to do. “We just did what felt right. That’s it.”

“You’re being modest.” Austin placed a hand on CJ’s shoulder. “If all rich people did just a tiny bit of what you guys do, our country and our world would be better places to live. Semper Fi!” His salute was once again mirrored by the other two.

“You can keep the disc, Austin. We found we had a couple of them with us. Consider it a present.”

“Thank you! I hope it was okay to show it to other people. Can I share it with a few others?”

“Dude, it’s yours. Share it with anyone you want. Just don’t charge admission, a chunk of any money earned goes back to Heroes Haven.”

 

Wednesday brought new accolades. Not for the documentary, but for Owen’s family wines. Although there had been no reporters present, as during the welcome party at Andrés and Felicia’s place, she had written a short article for her husband’s newspaper.

“In summary, although the small group of attendees was delightful, the afternoon stars were the Liston wines.” Simmone chuckled while reading aloud. “I wouldn’t go that far. The eye candy was pretty impressive.”

“Hussy!”

Their chuckles were loud enough to attract the attention of nearby coworkers. Simmone had texted him earlier, asking CJ to wait for her to go to lunch. They stood in his cubicle while she shared the article he had missed. When a couple of others joined them, inquiring about their laughter, Simmone raised her voice slightly so they could hear.

The Hunter Valley Verdelho was new to me. And it was glorious. Dry and crisp, I was told some vintners produce sweeter varieties, but I can’t imagine anything exceeding the full-bodied version we were treated to. I can see pairing it with seafood drenched in lime juice and smothered with chiles.” Simmone looked up from the newspaper and grinned. “She got that shit right. It went great with the shrimp. Let me skip to—”

“Don’t you people have anything better to do than stand around gossiping?” Northman’s sudden appearance and comment led to a couple of eye rolls.

Simmone did not give CJ the opportunity to reply. “Oh, hi, Stephen. I didn’t realize you were eavesdropping.”

The dig made Northman visibly cringe. “I was doing no such thing. I was on my way to lunch and wondered what you were all doing standing around here.”

“CJ and his husband made the paper again.”

The helpful comment from one of his fellow employees made CJ smirk. He decided to remain quiet.

“I guess some people like publicity.” Northman turned and walked away.

“And some people are just jealous.” The whispered retort came from one of those milling about as Northman walked away.

“Gee, wonder what crawled up his behind.” Simmone bumped fists with the guy standing next to her. “Don’t let him get under your skin, CJ. The man needs a little peanut butter to go with his jelly.”

 

Thursday was a holiday. The embassy was closed for Veteran’s Day, but CJ wore a suit as did Owen. Liebe had thankfully not made much of a fuss when Owen insisted she wear a dress. Having given Infanta the day off, the toddler accompanied her fathers to the Mexico City National Cemetery.

“Shouldn’t it be called the United States Cemetery or something like that?” Owen sat between Simmone and CJ after Trixie offered to entertain Liebe a few yards away from the chairs in front of the podium.

“Blame the U.S. Congress.” CJ had perused the background details included with the event’s invitation. “They authorized the purchase of the land in 1850 after the Mexican-American War.”

“That’s the one where the U.S. stole Texas, right?” Owen’s knowledge of American history was fairly good, considering he was an Australian.

“Ouch!” CJ and Simmone both chuckled. “Stole? That may be too harsh a word, Oz. Anyway, the war ended in the late 1840s, with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo establishing the Rio Grande as the border between the two countries.” CJ had suffered through a crash course in Mexican history while training at Foggy Bottom. “Since many of the dead soldiers had not been returned to the U.S., this place was created to bury them. There are around 1,500 remains, including veterans from different wars, and a few diplomats.”

There was a vibrant American retiree population in the Mexican capital and other cities throughout the country. The cost of living was so much lower, retirement checks went further, allowing those who made the move to live more comfortably than north of the border. The expatriate community included former military personnel, and they had all been invited to the Veteran’s Day ceremony.

Assisted by a Marine Corps honor guard, Ambassador Margaret Cox placed a wreath in front of the monument honoring the dead, before addressing the assembled guests.

“Although we justly mourn the loss of service members who gave their lives protecting our country, today’s purpose is to celebrate those still with us. Our government hasn’t always taken the best care of veterans, but I’m happy to report ordinary citizens often step in to fill the gap.” She momentarily fixed her gaze on CJ and smiled.

“Oh, shit. She’s up to something,” he whispered in Owen’s ear.

“We’re lucky to have two such men in our embassy family. CJ Abelló and his husband, Owen Liston, were instrumental in the production of a documentary on one such effort: a community of small houses for homeless veterans. With their permission, we’ll be screening A Home for Warriors—”

Owen leaned in closer to CJ. “Did you do that?”

“Nope, but I told Austin he could show it to anyone he wanted. I mean, Heroes Haven may miss out on a few pennies but raising awareness and sharing the story’s just as important.”

“—this afternoon. All of you are invited. I watched it last night, and I can tell you it’s a moving experience. The showing is free, but as one of our marines told me, a portion of all documentary profits benefits the organization. Hopefully, after you watch it, you’ll be inclined to make a donation.”

Her final words CJ was unable to hear when the man sitting behind him sought his attention. As everyone stood, he noticed Northman giving him a disdainful look from one of the front rows.

 

Friday morning, the usual “Good morning, CJ” and “Good morning, Mr. Abelló” greetings felt a bit more effusive and warmer. CJ and Owen had skipped the documentary’s showing, but apparently few others had. More than once he heard “Thank you for your efforts.” Those came primarily from military and security personnel.

A couple of officers stood by his cubicle, asking questions, when Stephen Northman walked up.

“Mr. Abelló, when you’re done with your fan club, I’d like to see you in my office.” The icy tone did not go unnoticed; both officers scowled.

CJ felt embarrassed. “Sorry about that. My boss doesn’t like me being the center of attention. I better go find out what he wants.”

The older of the two placed a hand on CJ’s shoulder. “Ignore him. And if he ever gives you too much crap, come find us. We’ll put him in his place.”

CJ nodded. Northman had unwittingly made enemies of the two military men, and in the process made them CJ allies. He didn’t think his strained relationship with Northman would ever reach the point he would need assistance, but it was nice to know some people had his back. People who knew how to use a weapon.

 

“I’m telling you, Oz, it was the weirdest feeling. I could tell who watched the damn thing by how they looked at me. I had more smiles and handshakes today than ever.”

“Except for Northman.” Owen had asked if CJ’s boss had watched the documentary, but CJ had no idea if he had.

“I was going to ask someone if they had seen him at the screening but decided I really didn’t care. The man keeps hating on me, he’s gonna be making enemies. Particularly among the military.”

Owen chuckled. “First you had the ambassador and public relations eating out of your hand, and now you have a bunch of marines fawning over you. Same shit, different country.”

“Fuck you, Oz.”

“Okay.”

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.

Story Discussion Topic

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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