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    Carlos Hazday
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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 - 16. CDMX • XVI

“We didn’t make the front page.” CJ dropped the newspaper on the kitchen counter. His sarcastic tone reinforced what everyone knew: he did not care about such things. “But we show up on the local section.”

“Not good enough for you?” Brett snatched the paper before César could, tossed the front section aside, and smiled at the picture on the subsequent one. “I likey.”

Gutiérrez Müller Inaugura Centro Tecnológico.” sar did not look pleased with the headline. “That’s it? The first lady inaugurates technology center? What about mentioning it wouldn’t exist if CJ and Ozzie hadn’t thought of it?”

“Chill, Dad.” CJ shook his head not quite believing his father’s complaint and leaned in for a closer look at the picture. “I’m sure they mention us in the article, and you know damn well neither one of us cares about that crap anyway. Nice picture. You look cute, Munchkin.”

The comment triggered the girl’s interest; she reached for the newspaper. “Me!” Liebe pointed at herself with an index finger and tried to take the daily out of Brett’s hand.

He yanked it away from her. “Wait your turn, kiddo.”

It must have felt like a game of keep-away to her; she grinned and pounded her fists on the high chair's tray.

“I’ll have to ask Felicia to get me a copy of that picture. It’s good enough to share on social.” CJ turned his attention to Liebe. “What do you want for breakfast, Munchkin?”

“Tacos!”

“We have pico de gallo and a bunch of tortillas in the refrigerator.” Owen was already walking in that direction. “Infanta made extras. I’ll throw them in the oven to warm up. Scrambled egg tacos?”

“Perfect. Five orders of CJ’s Mexican Scramble coming up.”

“What’s in them? Need help?” César’s offer was accepted with nods.

“Wanna chop onions and cilantro? I’ll beat the eggs and crumble the chorizo.”

Owen offered his assistance. “I’ll do the habanero. We’ve learned to wear surgical gloves so we don’t burn ourselves or Liebe after we touch them. She cried like crazy when it happened before.”

Done eating, Owen and Brett cleaned, and César took charge of getting Liebe ready. Out of the shower and ready to go, CJ harangued them, urging speed.

“What the hell are you in such a rush for?” Brett stood in the middle of the living room, wearing only boxers, while brushing his teeth. His words were mumbled. “I’m on vacation.”

“He wants to be there at the opening so he can haggle.” Owen had been through the routine before. “If you’re their first customer, vendors give you their lowest prices.”

“Wait. You’re rushing us so you can save a few pesos on silver crap?” Brett had taken the toothbrush out of his mouth, and toothpaste dripped down his chin. He used a hand to wipe himself.

“It’s more than that.” CJ shrugged. “It’s a cultural thing. Most of the sellers are superstitious and believe if they make a quick sale it’ll set the tone for the day. And for the record, it may be El Mercado de la Plata, but they sell a lot more than silver. Some of the textiles are dope, and you can find pretty cool folkloric art.”

While the grandfathers took turns holding Liebe, Owen carried a backpack with her supplies. CJ had shouldered an empty one which was not as light when they left the market. He had bought silver jewelry as Christmas presents and a rough-carved Virgen de Guadalupe from an artist he had spoken with during a previous visit. César added three dozen handmade cocktail napkins embroidered with Aztec iconography and a couple of silver trinkets.

“Really? A religious object?” Brett handled the carving carefully. “I’m surprised you’d want one of these.”

“I didn’t get it so much for the meaning as for the art. I loved some of that guy’s work when I saw it last time we were here but decided to wait on buying anything. I finally settled on that one because Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe’s such an intrinsic part of Mexican culture.”

A few blocks away from the market, in a Paseo de la Reforma roundabout, stood the Angel de la Independencia. Erected in 1910 to commemorate the centenary of Mexico’s War of Independence, it was the city’s signature monument.

They had some time before their appointment to visit inside, so while Brett and Owen sat for a snack with Liebe, César and CJ strolled through the artists’ displays scattered around the column’s base.

“I didn’t see any artwork hanging on your apartment walls. You haven’t found anything you like before the carving?” César stopped to examine a cubist painting of a jaguar.

“We’ve seen a few, but we’re waiting to buy anything big. There’s one artist in Playa del Carmen we tried to visit while we were there, but he was out of town.” CJ referred to Jacobo Roa. “Andres and Felicia have a huge piece by him and we liked it a lot.”

“Are you gonna go back?”

“To Yucatan? I’m sure we will. But he has a show at a local gallery early next year, and we already scored tickets to the opening night reception.”

“Speaking of early next year, you’re aware of the award chatter about A Home for Warriors, right?”

“Brad mentioned something about it last time we talked.” Concurrently with CJ and Owen’s departure for Mexico, Brad Kennedy had moved into Everhope, their D.C. home, as caretaker. Their fellow Squad member talked to CJ and Owen regularly. “I think he was reading from a list of possibilities when he mentioned them. I didn’t recognize most of the awards.”

“Obviously, the Oscars are the big one. If we do get a nomination, you guys should fly to L.A. for the weekend.”

“When are they?”

“I think the last Sunday in March.”

“I don’t know, Dad.” CJ shook his head. “Since I’m using all my accumulated leave over Christmas, not sure I’ll be able to swing it. Owen can go though. His boss’ not as strict as mine.”

“Put in a request for time off now. You never know. And if the asshole gives you a hard time, talk to Margaret.”

CJ chuckled. “First name basis with the ambassador?”

“Don’t give me shit, she insisted Brett and I use it. And anyway, weren’t you the one calling the first lady Beatriz?”

The column’s base, a quadrangle with bronze sculptures on each side representing law, war, justice, and peace, was reached by climbing some twenty-odd steps. When originally built, less than ten had been required, but due to Mexico City’s issue with ground subsidence, the number had been more than doubled.

“One of these days the entire damn city’s gonna collapse into a ginormous sinkhole.” CJ had been doubtful when he first heard of the problem but was convinced once he saw the physical evidence.

Brett’s response was typical. “Somebody should have warned the Spaniards about Moctezuma’s real, revenge. The Aztecs are still fighting back.”

While entry was free, visitors required a permit to access the monument’s interior. Owen had made the reservation as soon as César and Brett announced plans to visit. Admission was limited to six individuals at once. Each group was granted limited time between 10:00 a.m. and one o’clock on Saturdays and Sundays. He had requested and been provided the last one in the day, assuming once inside they could exceed the allotted minutes. Tossing visitors over the balcony at quitting time did not seem like a possibility.

“Ready for the hard part?” CJ tightened the backpack’s straps crisscrossing his torso. They had climbed the initial portion of steps within the base and were about to embark on the arduous section.

“Hang on, Liebe.” César carried his granddaughter in his arms.

The stairs in the column itself, nearly two hundred steps, were circular, metal, narrow, and without landings. It was the equivalent of ascending a fourteen-story building. Atop the column and below the gilded statue a narrow balcony offered a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

Owen pointed northwest. “That’s our building. We’re on the edge of the Polanco neighborhood.” His finger traced an imaginary line eastward. “That’s the Australian embassy”he moved the digit slightly further to the right“and that’s the American one.” As they circled the cylinder, he identified a few other landmarks. “That’s Bosque de Chapultepec,” he said once they had gone nearly 360 degrees.

They had lunch before returning to the apartment. While Liebe napped, the adults visited, discussing Brett and César’s trip to the Malibu beach house, and the family’s Christmas plans.

For dinner, they scoured the refrigerator and cabinets for leftovers and anything microwaveable. Dessert involved a short stroll to the neighborhood’s ice cream parlor, with cups and cones carried to and eaten at the park.

“Can I have a taste of yours?” Brett sat on a bench next to Liebe. She had ordered avocado ice cream, engendering jokes about the next Tom Brady. Brett ended up wearing the first two spoonfuls she tried to feed him.

 

Sunday morning the grandfathers took the family out for brunch. Maneiro’s Prime Bar was a twenty-minute walk away from the apartment, had a reputation as LGBTQ friendly, and shared a name with their favorite New York City watering hole, PRIME.

As they exited the restaurant after eating, a couple of steps past the entrance, CJ stooped to talk to a woman sitting on the sidewalk with a boy younger than Liebe strapped to her chest. Reaching into his pocket, he handed her a coin in exchange for a colorful fabric bracelet.

“Here you go, Liebe. Got you a present.” CJ had to wrap it around her slim wrist twice before tying the ends.

“Cute.” César turned the girl sideways so she could wave her hand, showing off the new accessory. “How much?”

“She wanted ten pesos. I gave her twenty.”

“Wait…” Brett looked shocked. “She asked for fifty cents and you gave her a dollar? That’s it?”

Owen’s backslap surprised his father-in-law. “It’s Mexico, Cap. What to us may just be fifty cents or a dollar, to her may be a meal or two. Life’s cheaper here, but poverty’s everywhere. CJ and I try to do little things like that whenever we can. The smiles we get are fucking amazing.”

“Grown-up word, Oshie.”

Brett and César caught a late afternoon flight home.

 

Monday morning did not start well for CJ.

“I did not appreciate you throwing me under the bus last Friday, Mr. Abelló” Northman looked and sounded furious.

“I did no such thing.” After the wonderful weekend with his fathers, CJ was not about to allow the man to rampage over him and ruin his good mood. He would retain his composure while standing his ground. “The ambassador stopped by my desk to drop something off. She was surprised to find me in the office, asked why I was, and I told her the truth.”

CJ felt the need to beat the crap out of his pompous supervisor. He decided to do it verbally. “If you want, we can go see her right now. Let’s ask her if I threw you under the bus.” He stood. “If not, I have work to do. Let me know when you want to do my review.”

The email CJ received later in the day was short. Performance Evaluation Thursday, December 16, 2021, at 1:00 p.m.

The remainder of the day was uneventful, and he enjoyed the group lunch Simmone insisted he join. “It just ain’t right, I tell you.” She took a bite and reached for her phone. A group had gone to a nearby fast food joint and crammed themselves around two small tables. They were shoulder to shoulder, and she had to keep her elbows off the surface while tapping at it. “Look at this picture.”

When she turned the device around, CJ groaned. “I’m gonna have to block you.” He was staring at the group picture he had shared online.

“Hush, boy. I ain’t talking to you.” She glanced at the two other women in the group. “See those hunks in the picture? None of us stand a chance. Four hot men, and they all happen to be gay.”

The one heterosexual man in the group shrugged; obviously, he was not bothered by it.

Lincoln chortled. “Don’t feel bad, sister. I’m gay, and I don’t stand a chance with them either. Damn monogamy! I’ve said it before, CJ’s the biggest flirt around. I thought I might have a chance with him when we first met back in Washington, but no. He and Ozzie are so tight it’s like they’re superglued together. They’re both flirts. But it’s all talk, no action.”

“Asshole!”

Regardless of how CJ felt about Northman, the man was still his supervisor, and they had to work together. Tuesday was somewhat surprising since there were no snide remarks during their interactions. CJ was in a good mood when he changed into workout clothes in the locker room. Adjacent to the marines’ training facility, and with their permission, he had appropriated a cubby for his use.

A couple of minutes later, Austin and one of his fellow marines showed up. CJ fist-bumped both. “What up, guys? Good weekend?”

Both nodded but Austin also smirked. “Not as good as yours, I think. I’m so glad I can keep track of your social life through the news.”

“I think I like you better when you’re shy and awkward... Asshole!” CJ used the pause to stare Austin up and down and grin. “I’ll have you know after that thing on Friday, we spent a quiet weekend with my dads. Typical tourist shit. We went sightseeing, and we ate way too much.”

If Austin was more subdued than the extroverted CJ, his companion was even more so. The man barely spoke when they trained. “You look just like one of the men in the pictures with you, sir.”

“Crap. When you gonna start calling me CJ? But you’re right, I do look like my biological father.”

“Does that mean when you’re older you’re gonna be a DILF too?” Austin ran towards the practice room before CJ could swing at him. The marine was obviously in a playful mood.

Because they were an odd number, Austin suggested practicing two against one. Although the pairings rotated, CJ felt as if he was on the ground more often than his companions. Their session came to an abrupt halt when CJ took a hard kick to his right thigh.

“I think I’m done, guys. It hurts like a motherfucker.” CJ limped in circles, trying to shake it off, but realized what he needed was rest.

The marines agreed to call it a day.

Back in the locker room, Austin took a small jar from his bag and threw it at CJ. “Catch!” He frowned when CJ juggled it. “Rub that on your thigh now so it keeps the muscle warm and loose. Do it again after you shower.”

“Tiger Balm?” CJ grinned. “Growing up in Miami, we called this shit Cuban Icy Hot. Every grandmother swore by it. Along with a bunch of other home-style remedies.”

“I discovered it in a local pharmacy and like it better than the famous brands. You can keep it if you don’t have anything similar at home.”

“Pretty sure we got something or other in the medicine cabinet. Thanks, bud.”

“And try essential oil of cypress on it. It helps clear up bruises.”

“Really? How you know that shit?”

“Not sure where I picked that one up. Anyway, you asked me about my weekend. I didn’t want to get crap about getting laid, so I didn’t say anything before.”

“No shit? You got some?” CJ was happy for the man.

“Yeah. And it was damn good.” The immense smile confirmed the words. “I took Calum out to dinner, and he took me back to his place afterward.”

 

The next day, CJ was surprised when Jimmy Chen stopped by his desk. They had not seen or talked to each other since the previous month’s wine tasting. ”What up, Jimmy? What brings you to my neck of the embassy?”

“You and your husband. Are you guys gonna be home tonight?”

Surprise became confusion. “Yeah… I just talked to Ozzie, the nanny made dinner so we’re staying in.”

“What time’s dinner? I’d like to stop by after.”

“What’s going on?” CJ’s curiosity was piqued.

“I’d rather discuss it in private.”

The man was acting mysteriously, the way a CIA officer might, and not as an IT tech. “Tell you what. Why don’t you join us for dinner? I’ll text Ozzie and let him know.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Infanta cooks for an army whenever she does. There’ll be plenty.”

“Sounds good. I’ll come back at quitting time.”

 

The usual blonde tornado that swirled around CJ’s legs when he arrived home stopped several feet before impact; CJ having a companion must have thrown her off. “Hey, Liebe. Remember Jimmy? You met him when we had that party a while back.”

Nodding, she approached at an unusually sedate pace and wrapped her arms around CJ’s uninjured thigh. “Hi.” A small smile accompanied her greeting.

“Hey, Liebe. It’s good to see you again.” Jimmy offered the girl a finger to shake. It was promptly batted away while she hid behind her father.

“G’day, mate.” Owen held a beer out with a questioning look while kissing CJ, and both nodded their acceptance.

The chicken enchiladas were a hit. After dinner, Jimmy asked his hosts to let him borrow their phones. “I’m sorry I was mysterious about my intentions earlier. I didn’t get approval to do this until this morning and was warned not to let anyone know what I was doing.”

“And what exactly are you gonna do?”

“Since you guys are going to the Russian embassy, my boss, with the ambassador’s consent, thinks you need a bit more protection against hacking and eavesdropping. I’m going to install some military-grade shit on them.”

“Is it going to mess with our use?” CJ knew enough to realize it couldn’t be true encryption software since that would require a similar setup on the other end of any communication. His assessment was not entirely on point.

“It’s basically an encryption system modified to protect your phone.” That blew CJ’s assumption away. “You’ll get an app icon so you can use encrypted mode when talking, texting, or emailing someone similarly enabled. And it has a bug sweeper too. Not as good as the one I used here, but handy now and then.”

“Bloody hell, that’s spy shit!”

Jimmy chuckled. “Yes, it is. And because of that, you can’t mention you have it on your phone to anyone. Well, you’ll have to use your judgment as to when, where, and with whom you use it. You’ve been granted limited clearance to know exactly what it does.” After opening the phones and sliding a wafer-thin plate between the mechanism and the back cover, he retrieved a thumb drive with the proper connector on it from his pocket, and plugged it into one of the phones. “Okay, this will take a couple of minutes per device. Let me use mine to show you how the app works.”

 

Even though the technology center project led to CJ arriving late or leaving work early on a few occasions, he felt his performance had met or exceeded his position’s parameters.

“At times you’ve performed well, I believe your other activities are a distraction which negatively impact your work. Using your wealth to attract attention and curry favor with the ambassador is not part of your job description, Mr. Abelló. You’ve created a stir, and we now have to deal with countless calls by people wanting to benefit from your giveaways.”

It was true. Following the previous week’s opening publicizing the family foundation’s project several organizations seeking similar support had contacted the embassy. After the first one came in, the public relations chief had come up with a solution: callers were informed it was not a U.S. government program and that CJ was unable to field requests for funds. There had been less than a dozen calls once word got out.

“It’s too bad that’s what you think, but you’re way off the mark. My parents taught me if I saw a need and could help address it, I had a moral responsibility to do so. And no matter how you may feel, I will not be ashamed of my wealth. That’s another lesson my parents taught me.”

“Figures new money would say that.” Although Northman mumbled, CJ heard the comment.

“Did you just insult my parents? That’s entirely unacceptable, Mr. Northman. Once again, what I do with my money and my leisure time is none of your business.” CJ took a couple of breaths, hoping his feet would remain on the ground. He felt the urge to jump over the desk and strangle his boss.

Northman’s review focused on criticizing his attitude and dedication instead of factual issues. Except for one.

“I disagree.” CJ could handle the man not liking him, but he was unwilling to accept wrong or incomplete information in the narrative. “I did not drop the ball no matter how loudly that man’s congressman complained. His son was arrested with a kilo in his bag and there was no way any of us could have legally kept him out of jail.”

Mexican authorities had intercepted the college-age student as he tried to board a flight home to the United States. The father had asked the embassy for help. CJ had visited the young man to ensure he was being well treated but his efforts did not appease the distraught parent. The man must have had connections. The following day, his congressional representative had called demanding CJ find a way to spring the kid free.

“I followed procedures and referred the politician’s call to you.” CJ remained calm although he was upset. He would not allow Northman to blemish his record with incomplete information. “I’m not sure why you dislike me, but I won’t put up with something that’s blatantly untrue. I did not ignore the man’s requests. I did my job. If you insist on keeping your phrasing, I will prepare a memorandum countering your placing blame on me. It’s my right to have it attached to the evaluation.”

CJ standing up to the man, and the possibility of a contradicting narrative being part of the file, must have scared Northman. It could potentially lead to an investigation, and CJ had learned the man did not like to rock the boat. Northman modified the language.

 

“She’s down for the count.” CJ stripped off his shorts and climbed into bed.

“I was thinking

“That’s always dangerous.”

Owen ignored his husband. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to turn in the travel request tomorrow? Right after clashing with your boss over your review?”

After the conversation with César and Brett, CJ had decided to submit a tentative leave request for a trip to the Oscars. “I’ve been putting it off, trying to string together two good days with Northman before asking. That ain’t gonna happen now. If he disliked me before, after I talked back during the review, he probably hates me a little bit more.”

Once he heard the day’s recap, Owen had praised CJ for standing his ground, but doing so respectfully. He had initially kept quiet when his husband mentioned asking for time off. “You’re probably right, mate. But I still think you should go above his head and ask the ambassador. She likes us.”

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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