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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 - 27. CDMX • XXVII

“Hey, CJ. What are you doing down here?” Simmone appeared genuinely happy to see him.

“I had lunch at my desk today, so I had a little time and wanted to say hello.”

“Let me save this.” Motioning for him to take a seat, the human resource officer typed away at the keyboard for a moment before turning her attention to him. “How was Miami?”

“Fantastic. Great weather, so we spent a lot of time around the hotel pool.”

“Did Liebe enjoy herself?”

CJ gave her his best look of astonishment. “Seriously, Simmone? When was the last time you heard a two-year-old complain about being spoiled rotten by her great-grandparents? They took her to the zoo and now she wants us to get her a tiger.”

Simmone cracked up. “A striped kitten might fit the bill. She doesn’t have to know it won’t grow as large as a tiger.”

“Nah… I’m not much of a cat person. Ozzie and I were talking about maybe bringing her dog down next time we go to Washington. That might help her forget about the kitty. Let me ask you a question. You know who Chipper is, right?”

“You mean the man whose picture’s my daughter’s screensaver? The one you and Ozzie jetted off to Florida just to see in concert?”

“He’s one of our best friends, okay? He and I went to high school together. So don’t give me shit for flying to see a performance. Linc already did that. Trixie likes him?”

“A little too much for my taste. She’s a teenager, remember?”

The chuckles earned CJ a hard stare. “Well, that’s perfect. His concert this weekend was sort of a warmup for his upcoming tour. He’s spending time in L.A. completing prep before it actually starts. When it does, it’ll be here in Mexico. You want a couple of good seats and an invite to meet him backstage?”

Simmone toppled over her chair when she jumped out of it. “YES! Are you serious?”

“Yeah. He offered us as many as we wanted, so we thought of the two of you, Linc, Austin, Calum, and the ambassador and her family.”

Hands on hips, she closed an eye and stared at CJ with the other one. “What? You’re not inviting Stephen?”

“Go to hell, Simmone.”

 

“CJ, Owen, could the two of you join us?” Margaret Cox, flanked by Kent George and a man CJ did not recognize, stood near where he, Owen, and Calum had been discussing the restart of rugby matches.

Calum excused himself to get another cocktail, while with a hand on Owen’s back, CJ steered them in the ambassadors’ direction. , “Mrs. Cox, Sir Kent, how are you this evening?”

Before they could reply, Owen shook hands with the unknown man. “Thank you for inviting us, Ambassador.”

“It’s our pleasure to have you with us, Mr. Liston. Celebrating Australia Day without the Aussie who’s made such a splash since arriving in Mexico would have been unthinkable. Whenever you’re in the news, we all benefit. I couldn’t buy the amount of positive publicity you generate.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, but I’m just an innocent bystander.” Owen tilted his head in CJ’s direction. “Allow me to introduce my husband, CJ Abelló. CJ, Australia’s ambassador to Mexico, his Excellency Robin Thompson. CJ’s the celebrity in this marriage, Ambassador.”

CJ shook hands with the man but was unable to say a word; Kent George preempted him.

“Your modesty is admirable but misplaced, Owen. CJ may get the lion's share of media coverage, but he’s made it clear the school project came about because of your concern for one child. And the report I read says you were a willing and active participant in another endeavor benefiting all of us.”

CJ’s surprise made him rapidly shift his gaze between the three ambassadors.

Margaret Cox came to his rescue. “I wish the envoys from Canada and New Zealand were here with us. It would mean all five of us could keep our eyes on you two. I have a feeling you’re not done making a difference.”

The oblique reference to the intelligence alliance quelled CJ’s concerns. Those individuals would likely have been privy to whatever report Jacob Cruz and his cohorts at Langley had produced and circulated.

“CJ, Owen, I need to excuse myself. I must tend to my host duties.” Robin Thompson again shook hands with both. “Mate, make sure you meet my wife at some point tonight. I’d like to have you two over for dinner sometime soon.”

“It would be our pleasure, Mr. Ambassador.” CJ glanced at Owen who nodded. “We’re at your disposal.”

They watched him step over to another cluster of guests and immediately engage them in conversation.

“Margaret, Owen, would you indulge me?” K ent George placed a hand on CJ’s back. “I’d like to introduce CJ to a couple of people.”

The Australian mission, located a ten-minute walk from their apartment, was close enough CJ and Owen took advantage of the crisp January evening and strolled down Rubén Daríothe street both their apartment building and the embassy fronted for the Australia Day celebration. Although Owen had been there a couple of times, it was CJ’s first visit.

Sir Kent escorted him through open glass doors into a tree-covered patio. Once they found a quiet corner, he stopped. “Although Margaret and Robin know everything I’m going to tell you, I wanted to do so privately. In there”he pointed at the ballroom“somebody could have overheard. I want to congratulate you on how you handled the Russian matter. You were a professional from beginning to end.”

“Thank you, Sir Kent. Unfortunately, I lost my cool at one point.”

“Bah! From what I’ve read, you’re capable of inflicting considerable damage without the need for weapons. I’d say the restraint you displayed was admirable.”

CJ assumed some sort of biographical sketch had been circulated with whatever report the CIA distributed. It was the only way he could think for George to know anything about his martial arts training. He decided not to overthink the issue. “Thank you.”

“What you may not realize, my young friend, is how much you’ve helped all of us. The Russians will certainly replace Yevgeny, but a fresh Station Chief will need time to reestablish contacts or create new ones. It gives us an opportunity to breathe and attempt to get the upper hand with whoever replaces him.”

“Seems silly you’re all making such a big deal about the whole thing.”

“You’re wrong. We get a break, we get some interesting names, and you get an attaboy. Something you should not discount if you plan to remain in public service.”

“I do, sir.”

Their conversation was momentarily interrupted by a server with a tray of hors d'oeuvres. Both declined. “I know you don’t have to work for a living, and I believe you’re not at the State Department looking to aggrandize yourself. However, I suspect you won’t be a visa and passport clerk for long.”

CJ had no idea how to respond. Although his interactions with Sir Kent could be counted on one hand, the British diplomat had impressed him with concise, well-thought-out insights. The fact he was praising CJ and speculating on his future suggested he had more than a passing interest in him.

“You’re smart, articulate, and you’re not burdened with the need to work to support your family. In some ways, you remind me of a young Jack Kennedy.”

“Did you ever meet him? President Kennedy?”

For a moment, the ambassador appeared lost in thought, until a smile creased his face. “Unfortunately, no. I was attached to our embassy in D.C. for a while, but it was some time after he was murdered. I did briefly meet Mrs. Kennedy and their children at a function when I was living in Washington. Disregarding whatever philandering the man did, the love for his family was evident. And for his country. President Kennedy believed in the promise of America at a time the country needed uplifting. Whatever the geopolitical reasons behind the efforts, the push he gave the space program provided you Yanks something to rally around.

“You’re as charismatic as he was, CJ. I truly hope I live long enough to see you blossom.”

As usual, praise embarrassed CJ. He realized his actions engendered the acclaim, and he feared he might not live up to the accompanying expectations. “I hope I don’t disappoint you.”

“Disappointments are part of life; they’re impossible to avoid. But I have faith in you. Anyway, I’d like to discuss something else with you. Let’s talk about Ingeniero Javier Moreno Luz.”

“The transportation minister?” CJ had a fair understanding of who was who in the upper echelons of the Mexican government.

“Very good. Recognizing the actors before you engage them diplomatically or otherwise is always advisable. Know more about the lad or lass across the table than they know about you, and you’ll have an advantage. Although it won’t be for a while since he’s very young, Moreno Luz is rumored to be angling for the presidency. He’ll have competition, but he has a chance.”

“And you want me to meet him?”

“Yes. He’s a player now and could be for some time to come. What you should know in advance is we suspect a large chunk of what he has stored in Swiss accounts came from Domogarov.

“How we know about the accounts is irrelevant. Let’s just say Swiss secrecy laws prevent us from confirming his balances, but we can trace money transfers initiated elsewhere that wind up in Zurich, Lugano, or Geneva.”

CJ was aware those were the three primary banking centers in Switzerland.

“Okay… Am I cleared to hear this stuff?”

“Who cares? If your CIA can trust you, so can I. It’s not like you’re going to call the press and repeat any of this. You should also be aware he has a weakness for teenaged girls and single malt.” Sir Kent had continuously scanned their surroundings during the conversation. Their target moving must have caught his eyes right before he grabbed CJ’s elbow. “He’s headed towards the bar. Let’s get refills.”

Thinking ahead, CJ deposited his cocktail glass on a wandering server’s tray. He ordered a replacement as soon as they were within hearing distance of the bartender. “Glenlivet on the rocks, please.”

Sir Kent smiled, and Moreno Luz turned in their direction. CJ’s little stunt had opened the door and the British diplomat did not allow the opportunity to slip. “Javier! I haven’t seen you in ages. Thank you for your wonderful note following my appointment.”

“I could not allow the opportunity to pass, my friend. You and the British are dear to us. And let’s not forget your knighthood. Sir Kent has a nice ring to it.”

“Well, thank you again.” He paused momentarily and glanced at the Mexican and CJ in turn. “I’m being rude. Have you met my young friend? CJ, this is Javier Moreno Luz, Mexico’s Secretary of Communications and Transportation.”

Un placer, Señor Secretario. CJ Abelló.

“Of course! I should have recognized you. Gloria Lujambo can’t say enough nice things about her new American friend. And I understand our president’s wife is quite fond of you and your family too. Thank you for your interest in our children.”

“It was our pleasure, Mr. Secretary. My husband and I saw a need and thought we could do some good.”

“Ah, yes, your husband. I recall reading he’s Australian, right? That would explain you being here tonight. Does he visit his home frequently?”

“Actually, Mr. Secretary, our home at the moment is Ciudad de Mexico. And will be until my government sees fit to post me elsewhere. Our permanent home’s in Washington, D.C. Owen will become a U.S. citizen as soon as he’s eligible.”

“Has he ever been back to Australia?”

“Oh, yes. Unfortunately, the last time we visited was over a year ago. We went to his brother’s wedding. It was also an opportunity for our daughter’s Australian relatives who had yet to meet her to do so.”

“How old is she? Do you have any pictures?” The man retrieved his phone from a pocket and fiddled with it. “Let me show you my children. We have three of them.”

It took some time for their conversation to wind down and throughout Sir Kent smiled without saying much. And just as he had found a way to introduce CJ to the Secretary, he also facilitated them stepping away. “Javier, I must go find my wife and CJ needs to rescue Owen from his fellow Aussies. It was wonderful to run into you. Let’s play golf soon.”

CJ had not touched his Scotch but made up for it once alone with the Brit. He forgot all about sipping the amber liquid, chugging the contents of his glass instead. “That was interesting. Thank you. If I may ask, why were you smiling so much?”

“Because you proved me right. You’re a natural. Using one piece of information, you drew the man in and managed to interest him sufficiently to talk about his personal life. You could make a fortune as the frontman for any international conglomerate.”

“Not something I’m interested in, sir.”

“Of course not! Most men who take those positions do it for money and power. You have one already. The other one will fall into place on its own at the right time. Let me change the subject. Did you receive golf clubs as a birthday present the way you mentioned?”

CJ grinned and nodded. “I did. My parents gave them to me last month. Owen and I were just in Florida to see family and friends, and I did get to hit a bucket of balls one morning.”

“You haven’t joined a club or sought out lessons yet?”

“No sir. I thought I’d try playing a public course a couple of times first.”

“Bah! You won’t learn anything on your own. Let me talk to the pro at our club. I’ll set you up so you can take lessons even if you don’t join.”

 

Two wine glasses and a bowl of Puebla-grown macadamia nuts waited on the coffee table when CJ returned from changing Liebe. Wearing nothing but her training pants and a Georgetown Hoyas t-shirt, she snuggled in between her fathers.

“Just in time. It’s about to start.” Owen reached for the wine and handed CJ a glass. “How long you think she’ll last?”

It was near Liebe’s bedtime, and they were gambling she would endure long enough to see Uncle Chipper perform. “If she falls asleep, she falls asleep. But I think the musical numbers will grab her attention.”

The two-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Mexico City meant the Grammys aired at 7:00 p.m. local time. Chipper was a nominee in all Big Four categories.

CJ and Owen startled their daughter when both shouted and pumped their arms in the air for the first win of the night. Chipper’s debut album, Jetsetter, earned Album of the Year.

“Damn! Check out Levine. He’s got more ink.” CJ had always enjoyed Maroon 5’s music and the fact its lead singer, Adam Levine, had taken Chipper under his wing after coaching him on The Voice, had increased his appreciation for the man. His involvement as producer, co-writer of songs, and backup singer and drummer meant he would be climbing on stage with their friend if he won certain awards.

Trophy presentations alternated with artists’ performances, and Liebe was still awake when Chipper took the stage. She recognized him and kept pointing at the screen. The fact she knew the song may have had something to do with her dancing in place. “The District” featured Kendrick Lamar and the rap artist began his part of the song off-camera before joining Chipper center stage.

“That’s pretty cool Lamar showed up.” Owen stood and headed towards the kitchen. “I’m getting more wine. You want anything?”

“I’ll take a refill too.”

The catchy tune had been a number one hit the previous year and the Grammy voters must have agreed with the public’s appreciation. “The District” won Record of the Year for Chipper, Kendrick, and the production team. The writers, Chipper, Lamar, and Levine, also walked away with the Song of the Year award.

Chipper did not come close to matching Michael Jackson’s eight Grammys in one night, but he did sweep the big four. Bookies had made him the odds-on favorite to win Best New Artist, and he delivered. He was not the first one to take home all four, and commentators pointed out they did not guarantee commercial success or continued popularity, but CJ firmly believed their friend would become a fixture at the awards show.

 

A week later, it was a different award uppermost on CJ and Owen’s minds. Family, friends, acquaintances, and journalists blew up their phones congratulating them on A Home for Warriors being nominated for an Oscar. As with Chipper’s Best New Artist recognition, their documentary was favored to win. Since CJ was not attending, they had changed their mind and decided Liebe would stay home with him, while Owen flew to Los Angeles.

Their plans were upturned once CJ arrived at the embassy the next day. He planned to do everything in his power to silence the noise associated with an Oscar nomination. He intended to avoid drawing attention to himself and not have Northman complain. Unfortunately, quite a few internal messages were alluding to the documentary were waiting for him. One in particular, from the embassy’s public affairs director, asked him to stop by as soon as possible. CJ waited until just before lunchtime to avoid a possible confrontation with his supervisor.

CJ knocked on the open door’s edge. “You wanted to see me?”

Carter Ludwig, the thirtysomething director of public affairs looked up from his computer’s keyboard and smirked. “I guess being an Oscar nominee means you take your time when I ask you to come by for a visit?”

“Don’t start with me.” CJ had interacted with the man on previous occasions, and they had developed a quasi-friendly relationship.

“Have you eaten?”

“Not yet.”

Carter turned off his computer and stood. “Let me buy you lunch in the cafeteria.”

“Not that I’m suspicious or anything, but what are you up to, Carter?”

“You realize you’re the first Oscar nominee I’ve ever met? The ambassador asked me to talk to you. We want to

“Please no. Please don’t make a big deal out of this. I’m not even going to L.A. for the ceremony.”

That was probably not what Carter expected to hear. He came to an abrupt halt. “And why’s that?”

“Because when the rumors started we might get a nomination last year, I requested time off to attend. It was denied.”

“By your supervisor.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yep.”

Carter shrugged and opened the cafeteria’s door. “Yeah, we’ll see about that. Anyway, we want to put out a press release. You have no say in the matter; the ambassador insisted we acknowledge the nomination. I drafted something I want you to read over and approve. Then, when you’re in Los Angeles

“We’ll have to ask Owen to do whatever it is you want. I can’t go, remember?”

“Leave that to me. As I was saying, we’d like you to take some pictures with your husband and your daughter, so I can use one in the employee newsletter. Don’t worry about the ceremony itself; if you win, we’ll use a shot from one of the wire services showing you on stage.”

The avalanche of congratulatory messages slowed to a trickle as the day wore on. Near quitting time, an unsmiling Stephen Northman stopped by his office and surprised him. “Mr. Abelló, please submit a new request for leave to travel to Los Angeles.”

“Excuse me?” CJ had heard well enough but wanted a moment to assimilate the comment. He wondered what Northman was up to.

“Please resubmit your leave request. It’ll be approved.”

Left alone, CJ wondered who or what had made his boss change his mind. Close to quitting time, Carter Ludwig provided the answer. “Thought I’d update you on what’s going on. The ambassador signed off on the press release, and I sent it out. Has your time off been approved?”

“Uhmmm… Not yet. But I was asked to resubmit the request.”

“Good. Ambassador Cox will be pleased.”

CJ matched Carter’s grin. “Did she twist arms?”

“Now, what would make you say that?” Carter’s grin became a smirk. “Let’s just say when I mentioned your request had been denied, she did not appear happy. I couldn’t believe she called your supervisor in front of me.”

“Oh, crap. You realize I’ll pay for this later, right?”

“Doubt it. Stephen wasn’t told what to do. She simply explained our military personnel seems to be enamored of you for being part of that documentary, and they might not be entirely happy hearing you would not be representing the embassy at the ceremony. Maybe your boss realized most of them carry firearms?”

CJ cracked up. “Thanks, Carter. Ozzie’s gonna be very happy he doesn’t have to go by himself. If we win, I’ll bring the stupid thing in so everyone can see it.”

 

“Sounds like Carter’s a miracle worker.” Owen had met the man before, but it had been a brief conversation.

“I like him, Oz. He’s professional to no end, but he’s not stuffy.”

“Yeah, well, anyone who looks that clean-cut, with his floppy blond hair and dimples, but with two full sleeves, I don’t see being stuck up. So he coerced Northman into letting you go to the Oscars and

“He didn’t coerce him, but Ambassador Cox sure as hell did. Probably inspired by something Carter said. When I mentioned I wasn’t going to L.A., his comment was ‘We’ll see about that.’ I’m sure he mentioned it to the ambassador knowing what her reaction would be.”

“However it happened, I’m happy. And we need to thank him for drafting that personal comment for us to use.”

Carter had written a short paragraph CJ and Owen were sharing on social media and as a response to all messages. They thanked family, friends, veterans, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It also encouraged everyone to support Heroes Haven and similar organizations.

“The guy’s smart. Did you know he graduated from Northwestern in Chicago?”

“Do they have a good journalism program?”

“Yep. One of the best, including the Ivy League ones. Let’s have him over sometime soon. We should get to know him better. I think I’d like to work with him in the future.”

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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