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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 - 22. CDMX • XXII

“Somebody suggested I might find you in here.” The smiling, dark-haired man had knocked on Stephen Northman’s open door and stepped inside the office.

CJ had encountered an issue with a visa applicant that morning, their name was on a State Department watch list, and he was reviewing the matter with his supervisor. “Spike?” His old friend’s appearance was a surprise. “What the heck are you doing here?” CJ had already exploded out of his seat, taken a couple of steps in the visitor’s direction, and wrapped his arms around his fellow Hoya.

Northman’s throat clearing interrupted the reunion. Before CJ could say a word, the 2016 School of Foreign Service graduate offered Stephen his hand. “My apologies, I’m being rude. Jake Cruz. You must be Steve Northman.”

“Stephen. With a P H.”

CJ rolled his eyes making his friend wink at him. Northman could be such a pompous ass.

“How do you know Mr. Abelló?”

“Oh, I’ve known CJ since he was in high school, and you can blame me for him joining the State Department.” Not waiting for an invitation, Jake motioned for CJ to sit and appropriated the other chair in front of Northman’s desk. “While I was in college, I worked part-time at a restaurant a block away from his parents’ place. We became friendly, and I encouraged him to apply to Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.” He playfully punched CJ’s shoulder. “Little fucker listened and here we are.”

“That place he worked at, The Tombs, hired a lot of GU students. Particularly crew team members. There had been another guy who, right before he graduated, introduced me to Spike.”

“CJ impressed me by being able to carry on thoughtful conversations about lots of issues. Rare for a teenager. Once I left school, we lost touch for a bit. When we reconnected, I tried to be if not a mentor, an advisor.”

“I see.” Northman had been surprisingly friendly that morning and shockingly remained pleasant through the interruption to his meeting. “Are you with State?”

“Oh, no. I work for a different agency.” Jake turned to CJ. “Anyway, to answer your earlier question, I flew in this morning. Since I’m in town for one day only, I was hoping we could have lunch and catch up. And I want to see Ozzie and Liebe. Any chance we could all get together this afternoon? There’s something I’d like to discuss with the two of you.”

Northman immediately shook his head and his pleasant disposition dissipated. “That won’t be possible, Mr. Cruz. Mr. Abelló has work to do.”

Jake’s easy smile was replaced with a serious expression. “Yes he does, Steve. I’m drafting him for a project. As a matter of fact, you’ll have to survive without him the rest of today. And possibly the remainder of the week.”

Being called Steve again had to irritate the man to no end; Jake telling him, without asking for consent, that CJ had something else to do aggravated the situation. It was apparent it did not sit well with Northman. “I’m not sure who you think you are, Mr. Cruz, but I’m Mr. Abelló’s supervisor, and I haven’t approved any special project for him.”

“No, you haven’t. But I have.”

CJ tried to suppress the grin. Northman did not like to be challenged, and Jake had all but told him his opinion was immaterial.

“And exactly what does that mean? Who do you think you are? And what do you feel is important enough to spirit one of my staff members away without even consulting me in advance?”

“Sorry, Steve, but I can’t share details. Your security clearance just isn’t high enough.” Jake placed a business card atop Northman’s desk. “If you have any questions, feel free to call the number on the card and ask for the Latin American desk. Or call the ambassador. I’ve already briefed Mrs. Cox, and she was the one who suggested I might find CJ in your office.” Ignoring Northman’s furious expression, he turned to his friend. “Let’s go grab whatever you need and get out of here. I have a car and driver for the day.”

Friend or not, CJ doubted the appearance of a CIA officer looking for him at the embassy in Mexico City was a coincidence. Jake mentioned he was in town for one day only, and CJ suspected the trip from Langley had something to do with Yevgeny Domogarov and the operation CJ and Owen had been a part of.

 

“We need to talk business, but I’d like to do it with you and Ozzie at the same time. Any chance he can take time off from work this afternoon?” Jake had followed CJ and watched as he turned off his computer and locked all documents atop his desk in a drawer.

“I’ll call him in a minute, but you’re in luck. He’s been telecommuting a lot, and he’s home today. So’s the nanny. She can probably feed us if you want homemade Mexican food.” CJ had noticed Jake refrained from mentioning details of his plans and assumed he should not speculate about the man’s purpose. But he could not refrain from asking one question. “Is this about who I think it’s about?”

“You’re still too smart for your own good.” Although there was nobody visible within hearing range, Jake lowered his voice. “I should probably ask Owen to join us here at the embassy so we could talk in a secure room, but I’m playing loose with rules because it’s you.”

“I hope, whatever it is, it scores me a get-out-of-jail-free card I can use with my boss. He’s a pain to begin with, and you didn’t help matters. I’ve never heard anyone call him Steve more than once, and you repeatedly did it. He’s gonna be so pissed at me…”

“He’ll get over it. And if he gives you shit, let Jimmy Chen know. He’s the one who told me what a stuck-up ass your boss was. We got your back, bud.”

 

“Oz! We’re here.”

The door had barely closed when a blonde blur ran out of the kitchen. “Ceej!” Liebe came to a screeching halt a few feet away from her father after seeing he was not alone.

“Hey, Munchkin.” CJ leaned down and picked up his daughter. “This is our friend Spike. Last time you saw him was at the party we had before we moved.” CJ and Owen had hosted a Memorial Day barbecue at Everhope, and Jake had been a guest.

“Hey, Liebe. You get cuter every time I see you.” Although he, CJ, and Owen only socialized a couple of times a year, they kept in regular contact through emails and social media posts.

“Hey, Spike!” Owen hugged the man when he joined them in the foyer. “This is a nice surprise. When CJ said you were in town and wanted to have lunch with us, I thought he was kidding.”

“Nope. I flew in early this morning, met with a couple of people at the embassy, and I’m flying out tonight. Hopefully with CJ.”

“WHAT?” The announcement was not only unexpected but bothersome. CJ had no idea what was going on or why.

“Is CJ in trouble for something?” Owen remained standing while his husband crashed on the couch.

“Nope.” Jake took the opposite end of the sofa. “Look, I had about three hours of sleep last night, spent the entire flight either on the phone or looking at files, I’m tired and hungry. You promised to feed me. Can I explain while we eat?”

Infanta, carrying a white table cloth, chose that moment to leave the kitchen. “¿Señor Owen, quieren almorzar en el comedor o en la cocina?”

Aqui, por favor.” He translated for Jake’s benefit. “She asked if we wanted to eat here or in the kitchen. I said here.”

Infanta covered one end of the table and headed back to the kitchen.

“I’m fluent, Ozzie.” The CIA agent chuckled at the confused expression. “Last name’s Cruz? I work in the Latin America section?”

“I don’t think I ever heard you speak Spanish before. And I just realized why you’re here. For a minute there I forgot who you work for. This is about the Russian, isn’t it?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, what’s going on?” CJ had held back but his curiosity demanded answers.

Jake glanced at Infanta when she returned carrying plates. “How’s her English?”

“Negligible.”

“When was your place last swept?” The visitor glanced around and grinned. “By the way, nice digs, gentlemen. No way could a lowly consular officer afford this on their government salary.”

“Dude, don’t start. You’re not allowed to bring up personal finances.” CJ smirked when his friend raised an eyebrow. “And to answer your question, we did it when we returned from Colorado and at least one of us been in here since.” He reached for his phone, stared at the screen to unlock it, and tapped at it a couple of times. He waved it around the room before showing it to Jake. "There, no bugs, happy? Now, stop asking silly questions, and making stupid comments. Spill.”

“Pushy, ain'tcha? I hope you did a better job before. That little move wouldn’t pick anything up.” Jake’s smile dissipated. “I shouldn’t have to remind you about all those secrecy documents you both signed, right?”

“What the heck’s going on? If this is so secret, why are we doing it in our apartment with the nanny in the next room?” Owen sounded annoyed.

“Because I was given leeway on how to handle the matter. Because you guys are personal friends. And because my gut tells me you’re not under surveillance right now.” Jake took a long, deep breath. “Okay, while you guys were recovering from the vodka and caviar gluttony at the Russian embassy, Yevgeny Domogarov, showed up at our embassy, identified himself as a member of the Russian Federation Foreign Intelligence Service to one of the marines on guard duty, and requested political asylum.”

“The fuck?” While CJ nearly jumped out of his seat, Owen collapsed on an armchair. “How come I didn’t hear about it before we left for Colorado or this morning?”

“Because only a handful of people know. The marine, who mentioned he’s one of your sparring buddies, and the night duty officer were both informed it was a national security matter and were threatened with unspeakable acts if they so much as whispered a word about it. The marine swore he would never do or say anything that could put you in danger. Talk about loyalty from someone you regularly beat up.”

“Screw you. What about that other person?”

“The duty officer? He’s one of ours.”

“Where’s Domogarov?” CJ’s brain was working overtime. He connected the dots and the reason they wanted him to fly to Washington became clear. “And why are you here? I mean, in our apartment, talking to us.”

“Because the two of you managed what we haven’t been able to accomplish in a long time. You helped us land a well-placed Russian who can provide a shitload of information.”

“Señor CJ? Señor Owen?” Infanta carried a soup tureen to the table and placed it near the end she had set for the meal.

Owen stood and picked Liebe from the floor where she played with one of her Christmas toys. “Gracias, Infanta.” He handed the girl to the nanny. “Caldo de res?”

She nodded.

CJ rubbed his hands together and licked his lips in anticipation. “Bro, you’re gonna love her beef soup. And the tortillas! She makes them fresh every morning.”

With Liebe being looked after in the kitchen, the three men sat to eat. Jake closed his eyes and inhaled. “Damn, that smells good.”

“You can eat but you have to talk at the same time.” CJ passed the basket of tortillas over. “How did you get involved in this?”

“Because of our friendship. Jimmy Chen’s initial report about Domogarov approaching you guys at a cocktail reception ended up on my desk. When told I knew you, my boss assigned me the case. I was the one who warned Jimmy you’d refuse to participate in anything we came up with unless you were allowed to tell Ozzie about it.”

CJ blew his husband a kiss. “Damn right! No secrets between us.”

“You caused a stir at Langley, CJ. I had to explain more than once you’re not a typical rookie diplomat. That you’re smarter and gutsier than the average Joe, and that you were eminently qualified to pull that little stunt at the post-ballet reception. It took some fast-talking on my part to convince them.” Jake finally sank his spoon into the bowl and tasted the soup. “Fuck, that’s good. By the way, any idea why Domogarov had an arm in a sling after your conversation with him?” The smirk suggested he knew the reason.

CJ mouthed a spoonful of soup so he would not have to reply. Owen dropped his in the bowl and stared at his husband. “What’d you do, Ceej?”

“Me? Nothing.” He concentrated on his food, trying his best to look and sound innocent and uninterested.

“Bullshit!” Owen was familiar with his husband’s attempts at misdirection when he did not want to talk about something. “You weren’t kidding when you said you hurt him, were you?”

“Fine! I was pissed, Oz. Really pissed. The man came into our home and bugged us! I had no idea he was primed to defect. So, when we were saying goodbye, and I bro hugged him while holding his hand, I may have dislocated or broken something.”

Jake lost it. His laughter reverberated throughout the apartment. “You’re good, CJ. You’re definitely good. When asked about it, Domogarov claimed he had fallen while riding a bicycle. Considering the time of day, and the fact he was not wearing the sling when he left the performance, we knew the bicycle thing was crap.”

“You never told us where he’s now. Are you allowed to?” CJ’s attempt to change the conversation’s direction worked.

“Yep. Hiding in plain sight. He’s been at one of the private apartments at the Sheraton María Isabel since he came to us. With all the Americans who stay there for embassy business, a couple of agents roaming around would go unnoticed.” The hotel was across the embassy on Paseo de la Reforma. “We provided medical attention and have been working on a cover story. If anyone decided to look for him, and I’m sure the Russians have been frantically searching, airline records show he flew to Vienna the day after the party. Austrian records properly reflect his arrival in their capital. It gave us time for an initial debrief before his compatriots realized he’d called it quits.”

CJ was slowly realizing the CIA man’s presence was not the result of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decision. The Company had been hard at work creating background and planning subsequent moves. “How come you didn’t fly him out right away?”

“Because a couple of hours after he showed up at the embassy, convincingly disguised as a drunk American tourist, the Russians mobilized. Someone at Langley decided to keep him on ice until things settled a bit.”

“I assume you’re in town to escort him back to the U.S. Do you have an extraction team with you?”

“See? Too smart to remain a paper pusher. I am, kinda have a group working on the matter, and I’d like you to fly to Washington with us. I have a jet all set to take off whenever we’re ready.”

Owen looked alarmed. “Wait a minute. No way am I okay with endangering CJ. He’s a bloody diplomat, not a spy.”

CJ remained quiet. Although he saw Owen’s point and had no interest in putting himself at risk, the allure of being part of the evacuation was hard to resist. He had precipitated the defection of a Russian spy and was keen on seeing the operation through as far as he could.

“He won’t be in peril, Ozzie.” Done eating, Jake pushed away from the table. “Look, guys, from what Domogarov’s already told us, he had an exit strategy in place for a while. He claims he hasn’t been a happy man in years. I suspect he’s not an ideologue and that repeated postings in the West opened his eyes to what life could be like. This wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to CJ confronting him.”

“I just thought of something. What about his wife and kids?”

Jake smiled. “As usual, you impress me, CJ. This is what I told my boss you’d do. Unless they’re in the intelligence business, very few people would think of subsequent moves and repercussions. We inquired about his family and were told not to worry about them. Maybe you can find out why he’s not concerned?”

“Me?”

“He wants to talk to you. He claims he has files safely stashed outside Mexico and Russia but will only tell you where.”

“You could torture him to get the information.”

CJ was shocked by the suggestion. “Oz!”

Jake stared at the table when replying. “We don’t do that kind of stuff, Ozzie.”

“Bullshit! Don’t give me that crap. What about Abu Ghraib? What about Guantanamo? What about all those black sites in marginal countries we’ve all read about? And the ones you’ve probably managed to keep hidden?”

The man shook his head. “No comment.” Then he grinned. “I’ll admit someone suggested Guantanamo as a destination. That was another reason for not moving him. There was some disagreement about whether to allow him on American soil since that would have given him certain rights. I wasn’t part of those conversations. Above my pay grade.”

CJ cracked up. “Asshole! Oz, whatever the CIA may or may not have done in the past, this is different. Domogarov’s a high-value asset who can probably provide enough information to keep the agency happy and occupied for a while. I’m a hundred percent certain they want to treat him with kid gloves, and that’s most likely why they want me involved. As long as his requests are not outrageous, they’ll try to give him whatever he wants.”

“You move to the front of the line.” Jake sounded impressed. “I’m amazed you not only figured it out, but you used the right lingo. We’ll make an operative out of you yet.”

Owen was not having it. “Over my dead body! Why can’t they talk here in Mexico?”

“Because he’s been missing for two weeks, and we can’t hide him here forever. The flight to D.C. will give him a relaxed atmosphere to talk to CJ, and who knows what he could disclose in the process. You guys may have taken him down, but don’t kid yourselves, there was a lot of luck involved. Domogarov’s a smart cookie.”

Something bothered CJ. “If all I’m supposed to do’s babysit him on the flight to Washington and chat with him, why did you tell Northman I might be gone from the embassy for a whole week?”

“Say what? A week? No bloody way. I’m not letting you keep my husband for a week. I don’t care how good a friend you are. He’ll probably be riddled with bullets by the time you’re done with him.” Owen’s concern and anger were palpable.

Jake alternated staring at the couple seated on either side of him. “I’m not sure who I’m scared of the most, you or CJ. We only need him for the flight, Ozzie. I mentioned a week ’cause I wanted to piss Northman off. Jimmy Chen told me what a jerk the guy’s to CJ and how quite a few people at the embassy dislike him because of it. You have a fan club.”

“What?” CJ looked confused. He knew Chen and the marines liked him, but it seemed there were others he did not know who felt the same way. Maybe Jake’s comment about turning CJ into an operative was a trial balloon for his employer. Something to gauge CJ’s interest. He was going to keep reminding himself, friend or not, Jake Cruz was a spy.

“You’re repeating yourself. Isn’t that the same question you’ve asked a few times already?”

“Spare me… If you’d come out and told us your plans all at once, maybe I wouldn’t have to keep asking it.”

“Fine. I already mentioned we planted clues about Domogarov’s hasty exit to Europe. When I said I felt safe we wouldn’t be eavesdropped on, it was because the agency’s had you guys under discrete surveillance since Domogarov came to us, and

Waaait just a fucking minute. Say what? Us? Under surveillance? Why?”

“Because you had a beef with Domogarov and their ambassador’s aware of it. You did hand the man a listening device planted in your home. There was a possibility the Russians might have been watching you in case Domogarov made contact. But we’ve seen nothing.”

“You know that don’t mean crap. This is Russia’s FSB we’re talking about, not Guatemala’s intelligence. Just because you haven’t discovered anyone watching us doesn’t mean they aren’t.”

“True. It’s one of the reasons we’ve waited until now for the evacuation. We figured after two weeks they would start looking elsewhere. But we also need a plausible explanation for why you would leave the city a day after returning from Colorado. We’d prefer not to raise suspicions. Any ideas?”

“Visiting my fathers’ out of the question. We just left them, and they were on their way to Wyoming.” CJ opened his phone. “Here, they sent us a picture this morning.”

“They’re holding an eagle?”

“She has a damaged wing and the rescue center people named her Liebe.”

“After your Liebe?”

“Yeah, the lady my parents are visiting, who helps run the organization, is my brother’s aunt. His father’s sister. The dads went to check out the place since the family foundation just made a multi-year commitment to it.”

“I have an idea for a cover story.” Owen showed signs of having calmed down and was apparently on board with the operation. “Adele and Oscar. You can meet with them.”

Jake looked confused. “Who are they?”

“Adele’s the surrogate we’re using next, and Oscar Facundo’s our IVF doctor. Liebe’s around thanks to him, and we’re ready to try for a second kid.”

“Perfect! And congratulations. You think you can swing an appointment with them for tomorrow or the next day?”

“Yeah.” CJ was already scrolling through his contacts. “I’ll call him, and he’ll make time for me.”

“You have that much pull?”

“He’s a friend.” Owen grinned. “Gay, Latin, and stacked. If you kill CJ, I’m chasing Oscar’s ass down.”

“Yeah, right. The two of you are gonna die of old age. Together. While rocking on a porch somewhere.”

CJ stood. “I need to pack. I have clothes at Everhope, but I need a few things.”

“Yes you do, but you don’t need a suit. Dress comfortably for the flight. While you do that, I’ll call the embassy. Northman’s gonna be told to forget he ever met me. The only ones who’ll know everything going down are Jimmy and his crew, your friend Lincoln, and the ambassador. We’ll ask Lincoln to spread the news you were able to get an appointment on short notice to discuss your miraculous pregnancy.”

“Hey! Watch it buster. Oz, you okay with this?”

“Yeah… I guess.” He did not sound entirely convinced but was no longer raising objections. “I knew being married to you would be interesting but this stuff was never on my radar. Should we call Brad?”

Jake looked away from his phone. “Who’s Brad?”

“Our friend who’s staying at Everhope.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s the guy in the documentary, right? I met him at your party last year.”

“That’s him. Might as well warn him I’ll be home for a couple of nights.”

“Go with the IVF story, okay?”

“You got it.” CJ headed for the bedroom with Owen following close behind.

“You realize I’m gonna be crapping my pants until you get back, right?” Owen sat on the bed while CJ disappeared into their closet.

“It’s gonna be fine, Oz. Spike wouldn’t ask if there was any danger involved. And I’ll call or text a few times a day.”

“You’re so full of it. That man has his eye on the endgame and the possibility of collateral damage won’t stop him. I know he’s your friend, and I like him, but he’s as focused on doing what he perceives as being right as you are.”

“It wouldn’t be right for me to be put in danger, so there’s your answer.”

“Tell that to the Russians. For all we know they’re aware of what’s going on and may just be waiting for you to get in the air before blowing up the plane. I’m sure they have missiles installed atop their embassy.”

CJ cracked up. “And you accuse me of flights of fancy when I read thrillers? Spare me.” CJ took a couple of steps, kneeled in front of Owen, and kissed him. “It’s gonna be fine. I’m not gonna do anything stupid. You and Liebe mean too much to me. I’ll be back in a couple of days, and I’m sure in the future we’ll look back and love the fact we experienced something so different from what most people ever do.”

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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