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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 - 18. CDMX • XVIII

“Where do you think you’re going, Mr. Abelló?” Arms crossed, Stephen Northman glared at CJ as he walked by the supervisor’s office. “In case you’re too distracted by your social calendar, may I remind you there’s important work to be done?”

The man was a pompous ass. Thankfully, CJ was saved from replying by Jimmy Chen speaking up.

“Good morning to you too, Stephen.” The sarcastic tone fit with Chen’s previously expressed growing dislike for the man. “CJ has a meeting with me and my supervisor.”

“What type of meeting?” Northman’s icy stare and frown sharply contrasted with Chen’s smile and pleasant expression. “And why wasn’t I informed?”

“Because it’s above your security clearance.” Chen’s shortness revealed he was not interested in engaging Northman in conversation. “If you have any other questions, you can direct them to my boss or the ambassador.” He placed a hand between CJ’s shoulders and gently encouraged him to keep moving.

Once out of hearing range, CJ grunted. “You realize I’ll have to put up with him being pissed the rest of the day, right?”

“He gives you crap, you let me know. Since I started dealing with you, I’ve come to realize your supervisor’s a buffoon. He’s so caught up in procedures and regulations he misses the big picture. Screw him if he can’t handle it.”

The debriefing was short. CJ had prepared a detailed report of Friday’s events and sent it to Chen first thing in the morning. About an hour later, the IT tech had shown up at CJ’s cubicle. The subsequent conversation with Chen and the agent’s supervisor ended with both praising CJ and Owen for maintaining their cool and seeing the operation through.

“I’ll walk you back to your office. Don’t want to give Northman the opportunity to pick on you.” Chen winked at CJ.

“Ha! That man’s had it in for me since I came to Mexico. He still pisses me off regularly, but I’m learning to live with it.”

“Only a couple more days, and you’ll be back in the States for the holidays.” Chen was aware of the upcoming trip to Colorado. “It must be a pain traveling with a young kid. Owen home packing?”

“I wish. He left town yesterday and won’t be back until tomorrow. I’ll start setting aside stuff we need to take with us when I get home tonight.”

“Where is he?”

“The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The Nature Conservancy organized a seminar and meetings he had to attend.”

The Reserva de Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca, a World Heritage Site some sixty miles northwest of Mexico City, hosted millions of wintering monarch butterflies from eastern North America.

Discovered in 1975, presidential decrees had set in motion efforts to protect the land and consequently the butterflies. Since most of the acreage involved was privately owned, Owen’s employer was determined to acquire as much of it as possible to better protect it.

 

“Here, you hold her.” Ignoring Ritch’s attempt to hug him, CJ thrust Liebe into his brother’s arms. “Uncle Ritch will entertain you while we get our luggage.”

Ritch chuckled as he hugged and kissed his niece. “Not that I’m complaining about carrying her around the airport, but nice to see you too, CJ. Happy birthday.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“Thanks for picking us up, Ritch.” Owen’s hug and warm words made up for his husband’s shortness. “Forgive your brother. He’s been cranky the last couple of days, and it got worse this morning.”

“Don’t give me crap, Oz. You’d be cranky too if you had to work for the idiot I do.”

They had at least a two-hour drive ahead of them, in all likelihood it would take longer due to holiday traffic, and all CJ was interested in was retrieving their luggage as quickly as possible and hitting the road. He realized he was being brusque with Ritch, but they could catch up on the way to Vail.

Liebe had fussed when woken to deplane, but she appeared content in her uncle’s arms at the moment. Ritch uttered a few words for her benefit between comments to his brother. “How the hell did you guys get through customs and immigration so fast? I thought I’d have to wait a while after the plane landed.”

“Diplomatic passports.” Owen held up the black booklets in his hand and waved them in front of his brother-in-law. In contrast, most U.S. citizens carried one with a dark blue cover. “And a cute baby. How come you’re here? We figured one of the dads would pick us up since you’d be sliding down a mountain.”

“Nah… Been doing that all week, and I’ll do it again after Christmas.” Ritch adjusted Liebe on his hip and stood next to the child carrier Owen placed on the floor. “Plus, I wanted to talk to you guys alone.”

“What up, bro?”

Ritch looked at the ground for a moment. “Defiant was totaled.”

“WHAT?” CJ’s shout attracted milling passengers’ attention.

Owen appeared concerned. “Were you hurt?”

“No, no, I’m fine. It was empty when the semi hit it.”

“Wait. A semi?” CJ grabbed a bag from the carousel and placed it next to Ritch. “You sound awfully calm, bro. When did this happen?”

“Over Thanksgiving.” Ritch apparently anticipated his brother’s next question. “The dads knew and didn’t tell you when they were in Mexico ’cause I asked them not to. I wanted it to come from me. In person.”

Although he felt saddened and upset, CJ tried his hardest to remain calm. He did not need or want anything else to dampen his mood. If the Jeep had been destroyed, so be it. It could be replaced. “Totaled, totaled?”

“Yeah, it was a mess of mangled metal when I last saw it. I got pictures.”

“Nice alliteration.” CJ could not help himself; he felt obligated to comment on language, even while discussing a car wreck. “Did you replace it or are you in a rental?”

“The dads told me to get something new.” Ritch grinned. “It’s in the parking garage.”

“Then let’s get out of here.” Owen seemed impatient. “And let’s go see what you bought.”

Liebe wiggled in Ritch’s grasp, trying to slide down his side while staring at CJ. “Papi, quiero caminar.”

Liebe had uttered her first words before she was a year old, and the last time Ritch had been around her during summer break, she was on her way to becoming a chatterbox. Since then, more than one family member had voiced their opinion his niece had inherited her father’s gift of gab. He loosened his grip on the girl, and once both her feet were on the ground, she held up a hand.

Ritch squatted to be at eye level with the little blonde. “I can’t believe she wants to walk and said so in Spanish!” He switched languages on the spot. “¿Quien es Papi, Liebe?

She pointed at CJ.

Ritch nodded in Owen’s direction. “¿Y quien es ese?”

“Ozzie.”

Shaking his head, Ritch stood and reached for his niece’s hand. “She calls CJ Papi and Ozzie by his name?”

“I’m also Daddy, and your brother’s Ceej sometimes.” Owen dropped the baby bag draped over his shoulder atop the luggage cart and held a hand out for his daughter. “She goes back and forth between languages and names. Since she spends all day with the nanny, we try to use English, so she grows up with both.”

 

Ritch had parked on an upper floor, so they had to ride the garage elevator. Once the doors opened, he clicked the fob in his hand. A couple of yards away, a car’s lights and chirp surprised CJ; he came to a sudden halt. “A Porsche?”

Owen and Ritch chuckled at his reaction. “Meet Heinrich, guys.”

“Oh, crap. You named it?” Owen, carrying the child seat, opened the back seat door. “The older you get, the more you act like your brother.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve been on a naming spree lately. The dads at first balked when I named the house Falcons Lair, but they finally gave in.”

CJ ignored the loaded luggage cart and walked around the Porsche. “We’ll discuss the house name later. Tell me about Heinrich.” He gave his husband a wink, and Ritch a smirk. “I hope you realize I’m driving.”

Heinrich’s confines provided partial relief from the temperature some twenty degrees colder than Mexico City’s. Maybe because he was thinking of Defiant, CJ reached between his legs to adjust the seat; Ritch stopped him, pointing out the electrical controls. Once comfortable with the instrumentation, CJ hit the starter button. Kelly Clarkson’s Under the Mistletoe blared from the sound system.

Ritch scrambled to turn the volume down. “Sorry. I was jamming on the ride over.”

“Going deaf, bro?”

“Nah… The roads were clear, I was zooming down the interstate with the windows down, singing at the top of my lungs.” The grin was proof Ritch was in good spirits. “Almost as big a rush as flying. Almost.”

“Got any tickets on this one yet?”

“Nope. I’ve only had it for a few days. but I have no plans to. What you waiting for?”

CJ had not attempted to put the Porsche in gear. “For it to warm up a bit. Liebe’s outgrown all her winter clothes, and I don’t want her to get chilly.” After deplaning, Owen had retrieved a hoodie from his backpack and draped it over his daughter’s shoulders for the walk to the garage. The bottom edge had nearly swept the ground.

“I bought her a Falcons’ letter jacket as one of her Christmas presents. If you layer her, it should be enough to keep her warm.”

“That’s cool! I can’t wait to see her in it. But we’re gonna have to buy her a bib and jacket. I want her playing in the snow.” Satisfied with the warmer vehicle, CJ shifted into gear and gingerly stepped on the gas. He assumed it would be responsive. It was. “Seventy west, right?”

“Duh! What other road would you take?”

CJ’s palm loudly connected with his brother’s chest. “Don’t get huffy with me; I’m not the one up here every weekend. So, how did you really murder Defiant?”

“I’m not up here every weekend.” Ritch sounded defensive. He sighed and recounted the events leading to the Jeep’s demise. “After I called you guys on Thanksgiving Day, Ed and I decided to try night skiing before returning to the Academy.” CJ and Owen had met Edrice King, Ritch’s fellow cadet, over the summer.

“On the way back to the house, a car slid on black ice right in front of us, crashing into the embankment. I stopped, Ed and I ran to help, and pulled the driver out in case his car caught on fire. Walking back to the Jeep with the kidwe found out later he was a high school seniora truck skidded on the same spot. Ed shoved us into the ditch before the collision.”

CJ and Owen interrupted a couple of times asking questions and forcing Ritch to backtrack and discuss Wendy and the girl he and Edrice had shared. The cadet was thoroughly abused. CJ thought it funny his brother referred to a high school student as a kid even though he was probably no more than a year or two younger than Ritch.

From the back seat, Owen asked another question once the story was done. “Did you ever get in touch with the father after he gave you his card?”

“Didn’t have to. the Academy did it for me.” Ritch chuckled. “Sorry, I was just thinking about all the crap we give CJ for people remembering him, and I got a little taste of his life. After the local paper published an article referring to us as heroes, the Air Force Times picked it up. We were both called in to discuss the matter and a couple of days later were told there would be a ceremony honoring us. They invited the guy we helped and his parents to attend.”

“Did they?”

“Yeah, nice family. I’m supposed to have dinner at their place before I go back to school.”

“I don’t ever want to hear anything about me being a publicity hound again.”

“It’s not like I went looking for it, CJ.”

“Neither does he.” Owen leaned forward, sticking his head between the brothers. “Like what we’ve gone through in Mexico. First, it was a simple welcome to Mexico City cocktail party by an old friend of his. Little did we know it would be the lead story on Sunday’s social pages. Then it was the technology center publicity with the Dads. And last weekend we ended up on the social pages again when we were at a party. We didn’t go looking for any of that.”

“Was that the one at the Russian Embassy? I saw the pic on Insta. How was the ballet?”

“Brilliant! Even your brother

“Wait, wait, wait. Who’s singing? That’s not Armstrong.” CJ tapped the steering wheel to raise the volume.

“How’d you know Louis Armstrong sang this?” Ritch sounded surprised.

“We listened to a lot of him before our wedding.” Their first dance had been to Armstrong’s “We Have All The Time In The World.” “How’d you know Louis Armstrong sang this?” Expecting a reaction to repeating Ritch’s question verbatim, CJ’s glance at the rearview mirror caught Owen’s eye roll.

“Google. One of the women in my squadron played it a few days ago, I liked it, so I went looking for it. There’s a hell of a lot of versions of ‘Zat You Santa Claus?’ but this one’s by St. Paul and the Broken Bones. And get this, they’re a bunch of white dudes!”

“You gotta be kidding. I’d never guess that. They sound awesome. What music service you have? Play more of them even if it isn’t Christmas music.”

Ritch had left Vail with less than a full tank, so they had to stop for gas. While he handled the pump, CJ ran inside the convenience store to buy drinks for everyone. Hot cocoa for the adults and chocolate milk for Liebe. When he returned, a grinning Owen had appropriated the driver’s seat. CJ joined his daughter in the back.

The milk, pacifier, and plush toy in her arms, combined with the car’s gentle vibration and soft engine hum, served to lull Liebe back to sleep. Owen had lowered the music’s volume so it was nearly imperceptible, and CJ repositioned himself so they could chat without raising their voices.

“Bro, we talked about you a lot recently.” Although the brothers chatted frequently, the minutiae of life was rarely discussed. “Remember when you told us last year about having to memorize that poem I like?”

“’Invictus?’”

“Yeah… It ended up being the subject of conversation during one of our post-match lunches.”

“You still playing rugby?” Ritch asked Owen.

“Yep. We’ve been on break for the last few weeks, but we’ll start again in a month or so.”

“So how did the poem come up?”

Owen glanced at Ritch momentarily. “We met this guy from South Africa who plays for another team in the expats league and became friendly. So one time, Simmone

“Who’s that?” Ritch directed his question at Owen again, but it was CJ who replied.

“She works with me and her daughter’s our babysitter.”

“Is the daughter hot?” Ritch’s question and grin earned him a slap to the back of the head from his brother. “HEY!”

“Don’t be a dick, bro. Trixie’s like fourteen.”

“Okay. Not legal? Not interested.”

“Asshole. Is that how you talk about women?” CJ filed the comment for future reference. He realized Ritch had been in a relationship all through high school and was now sowing his oats, but they might need a little conversation later about respect. “How’d you feel if in a few years some cadet talked the same way about Liebe?”

Ritch shrugged. “I’d fuck ’im up.” The girl snoozing meant there was no reaction to the colorful language.

“Your brother’s right, Ritch.” Owen resumed his explanation. “Anyway, Simmone and Ugothat’s the South African guy—have gone on at least one date we know of. We still have the matchmaking magic. That day at lunch, she was surprised he played rugby because she thought it was a white man’s sport. Ugo mentioned South Africa hosting the 1995 World Cup—”

“And CJ brought up the movie. Right?” Ritch sounded proud of his deduction.

CJ pounded his chest a couple of times. “You got it, bro! She ended up streaming the flick and loving it. Another convert.”

Although he rarely admitted it, Owen liked the movie too. “We’re here for a week. We should watch it one night.”

“I’m down,” CJ said.

“Me too,” Ritch added. “But I wanna go night skiing at least once after Will gets in.” William Bender, Ritch’s roommate at the Air Force Academy, would be joining them after Christmas Day.

“We’ll be there with you. Right, Ceej?” Owen had become more adventurous over the years and was usually willing to tackle whatever CJ and Ritch planned. “Hey, we just passed a sign for Vail. Wanna turn on the GPS so we know where to go?”

“Nah, you won’t need it. I know the way, I’ll tell you when to turn.”

CJ shook his head and leaned back. “Yep. You’re spending way too much time in Vail.”

“Fuck off, CJ.”

Ritch’s directions were easy to follow. As Owen turned into their street, the cadet pushed the button to open the garage door. “First thing Mr. A did when they got in was ask me to program the remote.”

“Listen, bro, take Liebe in since Papa already texted me asking where we were.” He had woken the girl once they left the interstate, and she was at last alert. “Let the grands and the greats gush all over her. Oz and I’ll get the luggage.”

 

“You ready?” Owen removed the child carrier and leaned it against a garage wall. Since they had no idea who would be driving Heinrich next, Ritch had suggested they not leave it attached to the back seat.

CJ was unsure what his husband meant. “Ready for what?”

“To face your family. It’s been a while since all of us have been together.”

My family? No. And for the record, they’re your family too. Hell, I’m pretty sure some of them like you better.”

“As it should be…” Owen grinned. “After all, I’m nicer and better looking.”

“Asshole!” CJ threw the baby backpack at him, but Owen ducked and fast-walked toward the door, carrying one of their suitcases.

It burst open before he reached it.

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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