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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 - 32. CDMX • XXXII

“The editors identified several individuals, all under thirty, and assigned each a reporter. After winning the Oscar, you became a hot commodity. A couple of the others wanted to trade with me.” Joe Huard grinned and ran a hand through his wavy hair. “But, considering I’m fluent in Spanish, it would have been silly for me to end up in Jerusalem, Riga, or Tokyo.”

“Was winning an Oscar why I was chosen?” CJ’s curiosity about the selection process needed satisfaction before he would allow the questioning to begin.

“Nope. The fact there were rumors about your project being a strong contender during awards season was probably a factor. Winning was just icing on the cake.”

“So how did I get picked?”

“I’m not entirely sure.” Huard fingering his hair once again made it appear like a nervous habit. “The editor who pitched the idea for ‘Next Gen Diplomats’ had a source at State who suggested names. You were on that list. That happened last fall after you and your husband started the ball rolling on the technology centers.”

“I did get feedback on one of the reports I filed around that time.” Carter Ludwig sat with CJ and The New York Times reporter in a small, embassy conference room early Monday morning. “Someone was paying attention since I was asked to elaborate on the single paragraph I included about you.”

CJ remembered Carter stopping by his desk to ask questions about the project. “Joe, you said something about Jerusalem, Riga, and Tokyo. Are those embassies with people being profiled?”

“Yeah… In Tokyo, it’s an Olympic judoka. She speaks a couple of Asian languages and often travels on behalf of the U.S. and the U.N. to discuss women's issues. In Riga, it’s an African-American who has ingratiated herself with a lily-white population because of her tutoring and coaching young kids to better grades and a soccer championship. Over in Jerusalem, it’s a man whose hobby’s archeology. He’s been involved in digs in both Israel and the West Bank, and has always insisted his coworkers be both Israelis and Palestinians.”

“Geez! I’m in good company.” CJ had warmed up to the idea of the interview. He knew when his stint in Mexico was over, his journal would be the basis for a book recounting the experience. Although that was probably a couple of years in the future, Owen had made him see publicity now might help sell books then, disseminating his words further. More importantly, the notoriety might open doors and facilitate future philanthropic, political, and financial endeavors. The couple had already discussed doing something about the American public’s ignorance concerning the U.S. Constitution. The attempt to overthrow the 2020 election by the losing candidate and his supporters revealed deep knowledge gaps when it came to what the document said and meant.

“One of the first things I did when I got this assignment was dig up everything we ever published on you.” Huard’s shrug confirmed what CJ already knew: it was common practice while researching anyone being profiled in an article. “We had some stuff dating back to the 2016 presidential campaign, your book, the incident in Charlottesville, and your involvement with those technology centers here in Mexico.

“But the treasure trove was in The Washington Post archives. The earliest appearance was I think in 2013, a picture of you with your fathers. Shot from the back by a freelancer who’s now a reporter for them.”

“Trip!”

“Huh?” Ludwig appeared confused.

“Charles Beauregard Houston III. Goes by Trip. He’s a friend of my parents and wrote a couple of articles for gay and alternative media that mentioned me when I was in high school.” CJ realized he had not talked to the man in a while and planned on calling him that evening. “I know that picture was in one of the rags. I missed seeing it in the Post.”

Joe nodded and grinned. “Trip’s someone I try to emulate. Although he can do hard news and do it well, he shines with special features. I have the pieces he wrote about a couple of your friends saved, and I’ve read them multiple times. The writing’s superb. The fact he turns participating in a singing competition into a dissertation on America’s infatuation with celebrities, while still raving about the competitor’s talent…” Joe shook his head in apparent disbelief. “It’s something very few could pull off as well. What do you guys call yourselves again? Your little group?”

“The Squad?” CJ tried to alleviate Ludwig’s recurring confusion. “It’s a bunch of good friends, Carter. About half of us went to high school together. Trip wrote a feature about me after the 2016 elections. That appeared in the New Yorker and led to us collaborating on Bullies Beware.”

“Hang on.” Joe reached for his shoulder bag and retrieved a small recorder. “I hope you guys don’t mind, but if CJ’s going to mention the group’s members, it’ll save me from asking similar questions later. I assume you guys are cool being recorded?”

Carter and CJ shrugged.

“Okay, so obviously I’m a member, and like I said, Trip wrote an article about me way back when. Chipper was the runner-up on The Voice in 2020, and Trip wrote a great feature on him and the show.” CJ opened his phone and found the picture he wanted to share. “That’s Chipper with Ozzie and me back in January. We went to Miami for a concert of his.”

“He’ll be here in Mexico City pretty soon, right? Ambassador Cox said something about having front row tickets for one of his shows.”

“Yep. He plays two nights in town; she’s going Friday.” CJ winked at Ludwig; the man’s smile meant he knew how their boss had landed such good seats. “So, Trip wrote about Brad too. The guy in the documentary. And he’s been trying to talk my brother into giving him an interview about life as a cadet at the Air Force Academy, but Ritch keeps turning him down. Ozzie does too. My hubby claims he gets enough publicity just by being around me.”

The conversation eventually came to a stop, when Ludwig glanced at his watch and stood. “Fascinating, guys, but we’re gonna be late for the ambassador.” He would be escorting the reporter around and had scheduled appointments with several individuals throughout the day. “We’ll find you later, CJ.”

The American embassy in Mexico City was a busy place. In addition to those who worked there, each day saw a parade of supplicants, most of them begging for the opportunity to legally immigrate to the United States. The reality was even the lucky ones would often wait years for final approval. Milling crowds near the entrances often meant visitors had to brave congested sidewalks.

A reporter roaming the premises would normally go unnoticed as just another body but not in Joe Huard’s case. Because Ludwig had sent out an embassy-wide memo announcing a journalist would be on the premises for a couple of days, and he escorted the man around, everyone was aware of who Huard was. Even fellow employees CJ did not know well smiled or winked at him throughout the day. At lunch, he was approached more than once with good wishes.

“Crap, why’s everyone making such a big deal out of one lousy interview?” CJ bit into his sandwich and tried to steer the table’s conversation in a different direction. “You should have seen Liebe yesterday. Owen ended up on the ground after taking a hit, and the little munchkin slipped my hand and ran right onto the pitch to check on her father.”

Simmone dismissively waved a hand. “Give it up, CJ. Nobody cares about rugby today. You’re not stupid. You know why everyone’s talking about you. Out of some 13,000 Foreign Service employees, the Times picked a select few to write about, and one of our own’s in the group. Never mind most of us have watched your documentary, and you won an Oscar for it. Excuse us for being excited. We’re not as accustomed as you are to being media celebrities.”

“Bah! It ain’t my documentary, and I didn’t win an Oscar by myself. It took

“Yeah, yeah, yeah… We know it takes a village, but it’s kinda cool you’re the mayor.” Simmone’s statement received nodding agreement.

“It might only be one lousy interview for you, sir, but we don’t move in the same circles you and your husband do. To us, being interviewed by a national newspaper’s a new experience.” The marine eating with them was part of the group CJ sparred with weekly and was supposed to talk to the reporter later in the day.

“Nothing to it, Jarhead. Just imagine having a conversation with a friend back home, and him or her asking questions about work and co-workers. There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

Simmone slapped CJ’s shoulder while shaking her head. “Easy for you to say, buster. You’ve done how many? This will probably be our fifteen minutes of fame.”

“Fine. Enjoy yourself. But trust me, trying to sound intelligent all the time while being interviewed’s not that easy. I wonder how my boss’ gonna pull it off.”

“Ouch!”

 

Stephen Northman was not an easy person to interview according to Huard. Near quitting time, the reporter stopped by CJ’s desk to discuss the next day’s schedule. “He doesn’t like you that much, does he?”

CJ shrugged. “He’s okay… I mean, you can’t expect to be buddy-buddy with everyone you work with. Mr. Northman might not be as boisterous as some of my other coworkers, but I’ve learned a lot from him.”

“Can I quote you on that?”

“Sure. I mean, it’s the truth.”

Huard’s laughter surprised CJ. “You know, that’s such a politically correct answer. Your friend Simmone was right, you should run for office. You have a knack for doing and saying the right things, my friend.”

“Simmone’s a sweetheart, but she’s a pain in the ass too. And no, you may not quote me on that.”

“Fine, but I’ll most definitely be quoting her. And the ambassador. Mrs. Cox claims if she could clone you she’d have a dozen CJs working for her.”

“She’s only saying that, so you’ll paint a good picture of the embassy. I may have helped us get a little positive publicity, but in the end, I’m just another paper pusher around here.”

 

The following morning, CJ found the reportercredentials hanging around his neckwaiting in the lobby. “Damn! And I thought I was an early riser. Morning, Joe.”

“Morning. I often have trouble sleeping when I start a new assignment. And since we’re staying next door…” Huard and Rogelio Tanaka, the photographer, were booked into the Sofitel Mexico City Reforma adjacent to the embassy building.

Because it was Tuesday, his day for sparring with the marines, CJ carried a backpack in addition to his shoulder bag. “Come on. Let me drop these at my desk, and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee. My first appointment’s at nine, so we have a little time to chat.”

“Do you like your job?” Huard’s question so caught him off balance CJ came to a momentary stop.

“Yeah… I do. It can be monotonous and frustrating at times, but it’s also rewarding. Whenever I can help someone, American or not, it provides deep satisfaction.”

“What’s frustrating about it?”

“Failure. To assist a fellow citizen. That’s mostly when someone breaks the law, and I have to tell them there’s no magic trick we can use to get them out of jail. Not like we can pull a rabbit out of a hat.”

“Does it happen often?”

“Not really. But I’ve had to deal with a couple of wealthy kids who thought they could turn a quick profit by smuggling dope. They were surprised at how harsh Mexican prisons can be and flustered we had to allow the process to move at its own pace.”

“Speaking of rich, spoiled kids

CJ grinned at the man while dropping the bags on his desk. “That’s it. I’m poor. You can pay for your own damn coffee.”

Huard chuckled. “You didn’t let me finish. A couple of the people I interviewed yesterday said they would expect someone with your bank balance to be a rich spoiled kid, but made it clear they don’t consider you one. Down to earth was mentioned more than once. Most praised your generosity. With time and money.”

“Well, that’s nice to hear.” CJ did a quick check of emails and decided none required an immediate response. He turned the computer off again. “Come on, we’ll get that coffee, and I can start my day.”

As previously agreed, Huard tailed CJ nearly every minute. A couple of times the reporter was asked to leave the room when CJ felt the person he was interviewing would feel more comfortable, but most agreed to the reporter being present as long as their identities were not revealed in the article.

Huard insisted on buying CJ lunch and was surprised when they stopped in front of a street vendor a couple of blocks away. “This is like having lunch at a hot dog cart in New York.”

“More like food trucks.” CJ pointed at the compact charcoal grill where the vendor warmed the empanadas and tortillas. “Decent variety of food.”

“Have you been homesick since you moved?”

It took CJ a moment to come up with what he felt was an honest answer. “Yes. Owen and I both miss our home, our family, and our friends. But it’s not something we dwell on. The opportunity to experience a different culture over an extended time period, instead of rushing during a short vacation, is priceless. Exposing our daughter to a wider world… Well, that’s icing on the cake.”

The afternoon CJ spent clearing files while walking Huard through what he did. Huard convinced him the man was a decent reporter when he asked a question here and there but allowed CJ to talk without too many interruptions.

“You’re good at this, CJ. Too often, individuals I interview limit themselves to one-word replies, and I have to work extra hard to get anything meaningful out of them. You’re easy to talk to and your responses are complete without being too wordy.”

“Thanks. I guess I learned how to deal with reporters when I worked on Clinton’s campaign. I always tried to be quotable without upstaging the candidate. The experience’s served me well.”

By the time the workday was over, Rogelio Tanaka had landed in Mexico City, checked into the hotel, and walked over to the embassy. He and Joe followed CJ into the building’s bowels. “If either one of you laughs when I end up on my ass, I’ll have my husband poison you tonight.”

Because the article was supposed to profile his professional and personal lives, the reporter and the photographer had been invited to dinner at CJ and Owen’s home. While sparring, he had the wind knocked out of him a couple of times, landing flat on his back each occurrence. Joe and Roger laughed.

Tanaka seemed to enjoy taking pictures of him being manhandled by a marine. Huard had already interviewed two of them and took the opportunity to get quotes about CJ from the others. Everyone was complimentary.

“They seem to like you a lot.” Huard and Tanaka followed CJ into the dressing room once the sparring session was over. “Sergeant MacKenzie raved about you yesterday.”

“I think one reason I get along with them’s the fact my father’s a retired marine. They see me first as a fellow devil pup.”

“Not so sure about that, CJ. I don’t recall that coming up.” Huard flipped through his spiral notebook, scanning notes. “Nope, your parents were only mentioned once in connection to the documentary and their visit last year. I think they respect you for you, not your lineage.”

 

At the apartment, CJ slipped into the bathroom to shower, while Owen offered their guests drinks. CJ returned to the living area to find Tanaka playing with Liebe, and Huard scribbling on his notepad while talking to Owen.

“You better not be telling him any of my dark secrets, Oz.”

“Too late.” Huard did not give Owen a chance to reply. “I now know all about your world domination plans.”

“Ooops. You may have to drop him, Ceej. We can bury the body in the park.”

Tanaka’s chuckling distracted Liebe while she tried to wiggle off his lap. She raised both arms in CJ’s direction, and he rescued her from the photographer’s tickling. “What’s wrong, Munchkin? The man’s just making you laugh.” CJ poked her side with a finger.

“No mas tickling.” To prove she meant it, Liebe slid down her father’s body and stumbled toward Owen.

“I guess that puts further conversation between us on temporary hold, Owen. CJ, let me ask you the same question I asked your husband: When did you fall in love with him?”

“Why are you using past tense? It’s not a done deal. I fall in love with him every day.”

“I’m quoting you.”

“Crap. I gotta remember almost anything I say’s fair game. I’m always aware I’m probably not the smartest person in the room, and this proves it. My reputation’s shot as soon as our friends read that sappy line.”

“Sappy or not, you didn’t even think about how to reply. That tells me you meant what you said.”

“Damn right, I did. Until Liebe came along, he was the most important person in my life. Since then he’s had to get used to being relegated to number two.”

During dinner, Huard kept his notebook by his side and frequently jotted notations. “Why the State Department?”

“Duh! I did go to Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.”

“Nope.” Huard vigorously shook his head. “Not good enough. You could have gone to work in the private sector and made a heck of a lot of money. Or you could have applied to almost any other government agency if you wanted to enter the public arena.”

“Finances were never part of the discussion.” Owen alternated between feeding himself and his daughter, preventing CJ from being too distracted.

“They didn’t. Since money wasn’t an issue, the State Department was an easy choice. No matter how much some people would like to ignore international interdependence, it won’t go away. I believe in qualified free trade; the rush to rely on overseas manufacturers could prove dangerous in a crisis. And I support international activism. The United States should not be the world’s police, but there are times it’s imperative we intervene in certain matters. Even when they’re a world away.”

CJ paused, trying to decide if what he was about to say might get him in trouble. “Look, Joe, I was told I could speak with you about anything. Well, maybe not the nuclear codes, but since I don’t know those… But even being given that much leeway, I think State would prefer a junior consular officer not to speak about geopolitics too much.

“I’ll give you my personal views and opinions, but you can’t quote me unless you get it approved. Okay?”

Joe did not appear to like the request. “You have any idea how much journalists detest hearing they can’t quote someone? You’re in the driver’s seat, though. If you don’t want to be quoted on something, I’ll of course respect your wishes.”

“Good. Okay, last year’s announcement by President Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Johnson that our countries would supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines’ a perfect example. China’s attempt to establish hegemony over the Pacific Ocean’s a threat to our national security. Considering how much of our economy relies on Chinese manufacturing and finances, we should not become complacent about their power grab.”

“Aren’t you worried about a new Cold War?”

“It’s already happening. The invasion of Ukraine simply heated things up and accelerated the process. I believe the world order’s about to change. I hope Putin’s nuclear threats are empty ones, but I think we’re faced with cyber threats which could collapse our way of life. It’s imperative we not coddle tyrants, particularly those who may hold animosity against us.”

“When are you running for office? And where? My research shows ties to Florida, California, Colorado, and New York in addition to D.C.”

CJ shook his head while chuckling. “You trying to turn me into a carpetbagger? I have no plans to run for anything except for exercise. I’m happy where I’m at. I keep learning and hopefully, I’ll advance within the diplomatic corps. I do want to make a difference in the world. And as my husband often reminds me, words and diplomacy are preferable to fists and war.”

“You adroitly sidestepped the issue. Like a good politician would.”

“I’m not.” Sitting on the couch next to Owen, with Liebe on his lap, CJ reached for his husband’s hand. “We’re committed to remaining in Mexico until the State Department sees fit to post me elsewhere. We have a house we love in D.C., friends there we cherish, and we’re focused on expanding our family. Aside from that, time will tell what happens.”

Tanaka snapped several pictures of the couple and their daughter in their home’s relaxed setting. They talked late into the night, after putting her to sleep.

 

The following morning, Owen ensured CJ looked as good as possible; he was to meet Huard and Tanaka at the embassy before it opened.

“Cross your arms and look past my head.” Tanaka posed CJ by an American flag he had moved next to the lobby sign reading Embassy of the United States of America. Early arrivals mostly smiled and walked around them.

“How the heck did you end up photographing me for The Advocate and now for The Times?”

Huard volunteered a reply before Tanaka could. “My doing. I was offered three photographers for the article. I worked with Rogelio once before, and when I saw how good the shots from California were, I decided I wanted him to do it again.”

“Looking good, Mr. Abelló.”

“You get ’em, sir.”

CJ smiled and winked at the two marines as they walked past him. Since Huard had spent most of the previous day with CJ, at work and home, his goal for the day was to ask follow-up questions from several of CJ’s coworkers. Tanaka would tag along to photograph some of those individuals, and CJ was required to be in shots with the ambassador.

 

Carter Ludwig, trailed by Joe Huard and Rogelio Tanaka, interrupted CJ late in the afternoon. “They’re done and wanted to say goodbye in person.”

CJ stood and fist-bumped the journalists. “Thanks, guys. That wasn’t as painful as I feared.”

“You were a pleasure to work with, CJ.” Huard put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder and squeezed. “Keep up what you’re doing, and I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I interview you. Let’s just say I may have lost a bit of objectivity after meeting you.”

“Thanks, Joe. I’ll answer your questions anytime. And Ozzie thought you were cool too.” CJ turned his attention to Tanaka. “Thanks for making us look good last time. I loved that new picture you sent me with Owen and Liebe. I look forward to seeing which ones make it into the article.”

“I’ll share an early draft. And don’t forget you can get it online the Thursday before it’s published.” Huard gave CJ a final handshake and followed Ludwig and Tanaka out.

 

Owen’s voice was soft as was the lighting; his storytelling had captured his daughter’s attention as usual, but she was close to dropping off for the night. “Daddy looked at her and smiled. You wanna know something else? It’s not an it. It’s a she. A girl dolphin! A pregnant one. She’s gonna have a baby. The news made Liebe squeal and declare her love for Mamma Rose. When her father asked about the name, the girl pointed at the flower-shaped mark on her fin, and said it looked like a rose.”

“She’s out, Oz. I’ll take her to bed.” CJ rose, trying not to jostle the girl too much, and headed to her bedroom. He and Owen had been playing with Liebe and her letter blocks, trying to teach her how to spell her name. When she became bored, they relocated to the sofa, and Owen started one of the stories he made up for her.

“Rogelio texted me the picture of you in front of the flag and the embassy sign. He said he and Joe would be pushing for it to be the issue’s cover.”

CJ was surprised. “He sent it to you and not me?”

“Mate, I asked him to. I’ll show it to you after you put her down.” Owen watched from the doorway as CJ stripped the girl, put on her pajamas, and laid her on the crib. “She dry?”

CJ felt around her bottom one more time. “Yep. It’ll be wet in the morning.”

“I swear that girl’s an eating, peeing, pooping machine. She keeps gaining weight but still looks skinny.”

“Duh! Have you noticed her height? She’s growing by the day.”

“I guess she inherited the tall gene from both sides of the family.”

“Let’s just hope she inherits brains too. I’d hate for her to be pretty and dumb. We don’t need a bimbo as a daughter.”

“CJ!”

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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