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CDMX - Prologue. Prologue

“How the fuck do those tits not fall out of that dress?” Their hostess’ outfit revealed enough cleavage even a gay man would notice. CJ certainly had. He smiled at the bartender, accepted the cocktail, and slipped him a five-dollar tip. “Gracias, Elpidio.” He and Owen carried American currency around for situations like this one. The fiver made the bartender grin and thank them profusely. He surreptitiously stashed the folded bill into his vest’s pocket. Gratuities may or may not have been proper, but CJ assumed as with many servers, Elpidio was not making a lot of money.

Walking toward a more secluded area, Owen’s head pivoted from side to side, eyes roaming over their surroundings. The large space could accommodate at least twice as many people, so finding an empty spot was not too difficult. “Jesus, CJ, you can’t say stuff like that in public. You bloody well know most of these people understand at least some English.” His voice was barely above a whisper and his eyes continuously scanned the other guests. Nobody approached them and the respite was welcome.

“I think the bartender does. More than he lets on for sure. Betcha he’s putting on an act. Did you see him smile? That ‘Sorry, no English’ didn’t sound very convincing.” CJ took a sip and moaned in contentment. “I have no idea why he’d do that, but fuck can he mix a drink.” The jalapeño pepper rings added a nice kick to the margarita.

The cocktail partyin what CJ suspected might become an endless string of such eventsmeant an evening rubbing elbows with Mexico City’s elite and away from Liebe. At least they knew their toddler was safe at home with a trusted caretaker. The sitter and the full-time nanny they had hired were both lucky finds. The latter they could not thank Felicia Barrosa sufficiently for discovering.

Felicia had been in the United States in 2016 to cover the presidential election as a reporter for one of Mexico’s television networks. She had interviewed CJ half-a-dozen times in his capacity as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton and a friendship had ensued. They remained in contact once she returned to Mexico.

The general mood at the State Department, when CJ started working in the summer of 2020, had been dark. Chaos reigned amongst career diplomats unsure of how to deal with capricious changes in foreign policy and conflicting directives. Some departed, unwilling to watch the carefully crafted relationships with allies, developed over many years and multiple administrations, crumble. CJ considered resigning. His fathers and his husband had encouraged him to stick it out. With Biden elected in November of that year, and Mike Pompeo out as Secretary of State, he was glad he had listened and decided not quit. The future showed promise under the new administration intent on returning the United States to its position as the leader of the free world.

When he accepted the posting to the embassy in Mexico City, Felicia had been one of the first people he called. Her expressed delight CJ and Owen would be in her hometown for the foreseeable future was confirmed with a squeal fit for a teenager.

César Marcos Abelló, Jr. graduated from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in May 2020. By the end of summer, he was working at State Department headquarters in Foggy Bottom, close to where he had gone to high school. A year later, he, his husband, Owen Zachary Liston, and their one-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Liston Abelló, moved to Mexico.

“CJ, Owen, come meet a dear friend.” Felicia, standing next to her husband Andrésa media mogul owner of the network his wife worked forwaved at the American couple from across the living room.

Bypassing the State Department’s relocation service, CJ had asked Felicia for assistance finding a place to live. She came through with a jewel of an apartment a few floors below her two-story penthouse residence. Bought as an investment by an industrialist friend, the luxurious unit at Avenida Ruben Dario in the Polanco neighborhood was fifteen minutes from the American embassy, and across the street from Bosque de Chapultepec. The green space was home to museums, a zoo, athletic fields, and Chapultepec Lake.

“Amaro, Gloria, I want you to meet our guests of honor and my new neighbors. Licenciado CJ Abelló and his husband Dr. Owen Liston. Don’t they make a gorgeous couple? CJ’s new at the American embassy, and Owen’s a lawyer with the Nature Conservancy. Gentlemen, Gloria Lujambo, our Secretary of Education, and Amaro, her husband.”

Un placer, Gloria, Amaro.” Owen using Spanish drew surprised expressions.

“What a lovely accent. Where in the United States are you from, Owen?” Gloria Lujambo was probably about the same age as Felicia; CJ and Owen would later find out the women had met while attending the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

“I’m originally from Australia. But I went to law school in the Washington D.C. area, and I remained there after graduation.”

“And you, CJ? Abelló’s a Spanish surname.”

“It is. I was born in Miami and moved to Washington at fifteen. My grandparents all came from Cuba.”

“So you two met in Washington?”

Barely sipping their cocktailssince Liebe’s birth, guzzling drinks and stumbling home inebriated had become rareCJ and Owen recounted how they had met in Australia before the Aussie moved to the United States, where they had become neighbors.

“You married young.” Amaro and Andrés deferred to their wives during the conversation; those were the first words the Secretary’s husband had uttered since their introduction.

“You have to realize we met when I was still a teenager. Owen and I had known each other and dated for a few years before we decided to marry.”

“Wait until you meet their daughter. Liebe’s a little blonde angel.” It was not the first time Felicia gushed about their kid.

“Excuse me if I’m being nosy.” Gloria’s preemptive apology steeled CJ for a question about their sex lives. Why were straight people so fascinated with what two men did in private? “Did you adopt or did you use a surrogate?”

CJ was relieved. “We went the surrogacy way.”

“My younger sister succumbed to cancer while we were engaged, Señora Lujambo.” Owen, as usual when speaking about Elizabeth Liston, choked up. “Before going through chemotherapy, she had eggs frozen and left them to us in her will. Liebe’s full name‘s Elizabeth. After my sister. The kid has both our genes, so she looks a little like both of us.”

“Yeah, she has my big nose, and Owen’s blond hair.” CJ ducked when Owen tried to playfully slap the back of his head.

Felicia and Andrés were gracious hosts. Their guests feasted on an endless supply of upscale canapes, and the alcohol flowed freely. At one point or another, CJ and Owen met most every one of the two dozen or so in attendance. While greeting someone for the first time, they were asked for their contact information several times, with promises of invitations to art receptions and charitable events. It was the reason CJ suspected they would be attending more than one soirée in the future. “I’m gonna struggle with being referred to as Doctor Liston. I can’t get used to it.” A common practice in Latin American countries, those holding a doctorate of law were called by the title usually reserved for physicians in the United States.

Government workers like CJ were often called licenciadoliterally, someone holding a license. “You won’t even notice it after a while.”

As the end of the party neared, guests approached the couple, repeating welcome pleasantries, and their hopes of seeing them again. One man they had not yet spoken with stood by until CJ and Owen were alone. “Gentlemen, I’ve been waiting for a chance to chat with you. Yevgeny Domogarov. I’m cultural attaché at the Russian embassy.”

“It’s a pleasure, Yevgeny. Owen Liston.”

CJ’s spidey sense tingled. He knew who the man was. Domogarov headed his country’s Foreign Intelligence Serviceequivalent to America’s Central Intelligence Agencyin Mexico. The position as cultural attaché was a common cover for intelligence officers. Yevgeny had been mentioned during one of CJ’s orientations.

“It’s good to meet you, Mr. Domogarov. How do you know our hosts?”

“Please, CJ, call me Yevgeny. We’re after all both guests in a foreign land, and we should be friends.” The Russian ran a hand over his cropped, thinning hair. “Felicia and I met a couple of years ago. The Bolshoi Ballet was in town, and I facilitated an interview with our prima ballerina.”

“I’ve never been a big fan of ballet. It doesn’t seem to hold my attention.” CJ felt the man was too comfortable intruding into their personal space. The skintight shirt and tailored blazer hinted at a rock-solid body, and CJ assumed the Russian could defend himself. Without realizing what he was doing until later, he grasped Owen’s hand and pulled him in a little closer. He would fill his husband in about the Russian’s identity later.

“We must correct that! The ballet will be back in Mexico later this year, the two of you will be my guests opening night, and at the reception afterward. Black tie, of course.”

“We’d love that. Thank you for the generous invitation.” Owen's quick acceptance left CJ with no room to maneuver. He was now committed to spending time with an enemy spy

“I was impressed with what Felicia mentioned when she invited me. She said she met you while you were a teenager working in the 2016 U.S. presidential election?” Domogarov’s eyes flittered between CJ and Owen.

“Yep, the one you guys interfered with and messed up.” CJ’s dislike for the man grew by the second. Yevgeny was a little too smooth and slick for his taste. He had just revealed he knew quite a bit about CJ’s background. Probably not only from whatever Felicia had mentioned. Framing it as a question, he invited disclosure of additional information.

Domogarov threw his head back and laughed. “Now, now, let’s not dredge up old unfounded allegations. Even though you were a Clinton supporter, you should allow the past to remain in the past.”

“Come on, CJ. No politics tonight, okay? We’re here to meet people and enjoy ourselves.”

“Thank you, Ozzie. When Felicia mentioned your family owned a winery, I tried to find a bottle, so I could taste it. I, unfortunately, discovered it’s not available outside Australia. I may have to instruct one of our diplomats in Sydney to send me a sample.”

Danger, Will Robinson. Danger. CJ had made it a point not to use Owen’s nickname. He didn’t think Felicia even knew about it. Domogarov had done some digging.

Owen squeezed CJ’s hand. “We’ll have you over sometime so you can try them. My brother promised to ship us some as soon as he figured out the logistics. Do you have a card?”

 

By evening’s end, CJ was exhausted. The constant smiling, handshaking, and sharing of personal tidbits was trying and tiring. He and Owen had not spent enough time in Washington’s cocktail party circuit as far as he was concerned. Further making the situation stressful was the fact he no longer represented only himself or his family. Even as a low-level consular officer, CJ, and by extension Owen, were United States of America envoys. That had been drilled into both of them during the joint briefings they had attended in Washington.

Thankfully, home was a short elevator ride away. Except for a lamp in the living room, the apartment was dark and quiet. CJ assumed the overnight babysitter was in the guest room asleep since Liebe was in her bed. Both men kissed her head and quietly exited the bedroom.

“Oz…” CJ had kicked off his loafers as soon as they walked into the apartment, Owen sat on the bed to unlace his shoes.

“Yeah?”

“That Russian guy… you need to be careful around him.” CJ hung his camel-hair blazer on the back of the closet door, allowing it to air overnight.

“Come on, Ceej, don’t tell me you’re jealous.” There was no doubt the Russian had flirted with them but abandoned his efforts when neither expressed an interest.

“Nope. I’m warning you because he’s not what he represented himself to be.”

“Oh?”

“Yevgeny Domogarov’s a spy. He heads up the local branch of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.”

“No shit?” Owen’s tone and expression left no doubt he was surprised. “How do you know that?”

“Security briefing my first day at the embassy. Did you notice he dropped a couple of details showing he knew more than what Felicia may have mentioned about us?”

Owen inserted cedar shoe trees into his cap-toe Oxfords and placed them on the floor by his side of the bed. “Yeah! Now that I think about it… Like the little details when he mentioned things you did and said while being a Clinton supporter. When Felicia introduced us, she said she met you during the campaign but not which candidate you worked for.”

“Bingo! That has to be part of a Google search result of my name, but it’s not something I’ve discussed with anyone outside of work. And even then, only a couple of people have heard it from me at the embassy.”

“I just assumed Felicia had told him more than she mentioned when she introduced us to others. Fuck! And I invited him to come over? What are we gonna do?”

“Felicia definitely knew some of it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never referred to you as Ozzie around her. But Domogarov did.” CJ sighed. “Honestly, I’m not sure what to do. But I know we were told if we were approached by a known, or even a suspected, intelligence officer, we were required to file a report.”

“And here I thought the reason he was so chummy was ’cause we looked hot.”

“Asshole!” It felt good to laugh. “We forgot to do it when we got in; go check Liebe’s diaper while I get something to drink. You want anything from the kitchen?”

“Glass of water. You going running tomorrow morning? Should I set the alarm?”

“Don’t bother. I’m sure Liebe’s gonna wake us up with plenty of time for me to cook breakfast. Instead of running, how about we take her exploring tomorrow? Maybe hit the zoo? I think she’ll love the giant pandas.” The best-known zoo in Mexico was conveniently located across the street in Bosque de Chapultepec, and in contrast with other facilities that rented the beloved animals from China, those in Mexico City were owned by the zoological facility. They were the result of the successful breeding of two animals gifted by the Chinese government in 1980.

Before turning the light off, CJ spent ten minutes scribbling in his journal. The practice had begun years before when he received his first book of blank pages as a present from his grandparents. With the move south of the border, he had renewed his commitment to jotting things down. Maybe one day they would form the basis for his memoirs.

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.

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