Draining the swamp by Mario Salazar 10/2/18

The three men took the subway from different parts of town. They waited outside the chosen building dressed inconspicuously, for the agreed signal. When it came, they all headed for the cargo entrance.

As they arrived inside, they greeted each other with a mere nod. They had been meeting in different government buildings in DC for over a year. Their work was very important and required the utmost secrecy.

They waited patiently until the all-clear signal was given and then proceeded to the utility elevator. They rode it to the 11th floor to find it, as expected, deserted. The workers had all left for the day as it was normal at this time of the early evening. Their mission required anonymity and secrecy.

For even more stealth, they had early on agreed not to use their names, but instead had assigned each other a letter. Over the time they had gotten used to this strategy.

They entered a nondescript office that apparently was used to store surplus equipment. Fortunately, the place appeared to have been cleaned recently and was not too dusty. They sat at an old metal table on mismatched chairs.

S, the shortest of the group and its leader, started the conversation with his usual brief pep talk. “Your country appreciates your hard work. Let us say a silent prayer for our success…”

After the prayer and the pledge of allegiance, the meeting started.

S asked H to give a status update on the project. H as usual had accurate tables to show and use as talking points. He started with, “I would like to report progress on our mission to clean the swamp as promised by President Trump. We have convened grand juries in most states and have snared many corrupt individuals. To date we have over 50,000 sealed indictments.”

I, who was the third member of the group and second in command waited for H to finish. Looking in his notes asked, “Have we been able to indict any other big fish?”

“Besides Obama, the Clintons, Biden and Powell, we recently got four of the top Democrats in the Senate. We are getting close with Landrieu, but he has been very careful to hide his tracks.”

S looked at the other two and waited a few seconds to comment, “Well, we already knew of those, we will need to step it up, we want to really show how our president does what he promises. I have been thinking about adding another person to our command group for the final stretch. Could you guys tell me about the candidates that I mentioned to you previously?”

I, aware of his place in the group conceded to H for his choice, “I think that the best person has to be…, well, do I have to say his initial?”

S and H looked at each other and voiced the same letter, “T!”.

S again spoke to end the conversation and the meeting, “I will notify T of our decision and he will attend our next meeting. He will really complement us and make us more effective.”

H distributed charts showing their progress since they had met. The documents elicited few questions and comments as they had become familiar with this type of update.

S completed the meeting by providing the same familiar encouragement, “God, enlighten us in the continuation of our righteous mission.”

They all responded, “Amen”.

They agreed on the venue, which was always different, for their next meeting.

Without another word, the meeting broke. All material was collected and would be disposed of by H’s shredder followed by burning in his home incinerator.

Fiction? Yes, but based on content on current right-wing sites. This is typically published in conspiracy sites throughout the Internet.

Apparently, these indictments will be made known in the next few months.

If the reader finds this reminiscent of McCarthy era actions, the irony is lost on the conspirators.

The Children’s Table by Patricia Papa

Most of the time we saw our aunts, uncles, cousins and various relations by marriage only at weddings, the occasional christening and, of course, at funerals. We were Irish after all. Relatives were spread out around the edges of the city, and probably not overly sociable anyway what with the many hot tempers and long memories. Certainly no one was known for their hostessing or cooking skills.

The exception to that edgy family dynamic was Thanksgiving, and that was due to my grandmother Elizabeth and her mandatory annual feast. She invited one and all whether they were speaking to each other or not, and  she would not take no for an answer. She saw things a little differently, “I don’t suffer fools gladly”. End of discussion.

It didn’t really matter, because once the opinionated aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws got to Liz’s house you’d have thought they were all just one big, happy, lovestruck clan anyway. They even tossed a football around occassionally, fancying themselves like the Kennedys, attractive, vital, and willing to forgive. One thing they had in common was a sense of humor, much of it self-deprecating. There was a lot of laughter.

My parents, brother, and I usually got to Grandma’s early since she was my mother’s mother and daughters were expected to help out. That was fine with me since it mean I could claim a spot on the stairs that lead from the front hallway to the second floor and peer through the bannisters to watch the other guests arrive. Grandma’s three sisters, Mary, Josephine, and Christine,  could be counted on for a grand entrance, larger than life in their long, fur trimmed coats, louder than anyone else, and always laughing or crying or voicing an impassioned plea for forgiveness or bestowing absolution on someone for some offense. I thought they were giants, and I was terrified of them in a strangely enjoyable way. It was years before I realized they were average -size women whose histrionics heightened their stature along with the emotional temperature in Grandma’s narrow house. They were all married, yet they always swept in together, perhaps having left husbands and offspring behind to follow once the drama subsided.

As more people arrived, the noise level rose, the women fussed about in the dining room, and the men stationed themselves in the kitchen, drinks in hand, passing comment on every topic of the day. It was the perfect holiday set up for kids; no one paid any attention to us as we ran in and out, re- forming the alliances formed at our last family gathering probably months ago.

There glasses raised, of course. Every now and then one of the uncles would pause while refilling his glass and observe as my cousin Maureen and Iix clattered by, “Ah, that’s Kay’s girl, a lovely lass” or, “Will you look at Maureen there with all her freckles. Isn’t she a picture of her mother as a little one? ” But within seconds their attention swerved back to politics and sports. They seemed not to notice the little boys at all unless one stumbled into the kitchen with a bloody nose or skinned knee.

Seemingly hours later the twenty-pound turkey, sausage stuffing, gravy, potatoes, turnips, something green, maybe peas, rolls  and cranberry sauce, nicely rounded just as it slid from the can, were set out in the small, crowded dining room. We, a mob of cousins aged three to thirteen, fought over and finally settled into our seats at the children’s table on the enclosed back porch, blessedly free of adult scrutiny.

I’m really not sure what exactly was so special about being together this way, in that year, but we were very happy. Maybe the memory is enhanced by the fact that it was the last time we were all together in that house, in that innocently affectionate way.

After many toasts to each other and to those no longer with us, after dishes were done, and the youngest began dozing off, the older children were rounded up and nudged through their thank you’s to Grandma and goodbyes to the cousins. Talk focused on likely traffic on the George Washington Bridge and a next gathering at Christmas. By 9 pm the house was silent and growing  cool.

Grandma headed down the cellar stairs to put more coal in the furnace. I never heard the details, but she fell and broke her hip. We spent the next, I don’t know how long, it seemed like months but was probably weeks, visiting her in the hospital. A broken hip was a  bigger deal back then before joint replacement surgery was routine, before patients were encouraged to move about, before hospital stays were greatly reduced.

Grandma never left the hospital; soon after Christmas she passed away–as did those fondly remembered Thanksgiving dinners.

We still saw each other, of course,  at the weddings and funerals that mark the march of our lives, but no one stepped up to embrace the whole clan for the holiday dinners that offered such easy camraderie.

I’ve managed to recreate some of it by having Thanksgiving Days at our house with our three children and their spouses along with five grandchildren, my brother, sometimes other far flung relatives and always various friends. Much is different, of course, from the meal itself (vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, and the daughter-in- law who can’t abide soup, any soup). Then there are the electronic devices seemingly on every surface, although I’m proud to say none are allowed at my holiday table. We play soccer not football after eating. Still, much remains the same–maybe most significantly the children’s simple joy in being allowed to run free with their cousins away from adult hovering to form their own childhood memories.

 

A weekend to remember by Patricia Papa

Patricia Papa, personal essay DRAFT 1 [prompt: write up to 1000 words about a time when you gained a new insight into an old friend or family member]

A Weekend To Remember

My dad looked like Fred Astaire. You know, that skinny dancer in musicals from the 1940s and ‘50s: Easter Parade, Holiday Inn, Broadway Review. There were dozens, all featuring the debonair, fleet-footed Mr. Astaire and, usually, a somewhat less talented but beautiful female partner. Dad was a dead ringer, at least in the looks department. Family photos capture the raised eyebrow, the casually crossed long legs as he leaned against a blossom-covered stone wall in a cream colored suit, jaunty fedora in hand. It was a dapper look and a nice one as fathers went, not movie star handsome by any means, but sophisticated, suggesting a man-of-the-world. Nothing like Dad’s real-life persona, that of a quiet, rather unassuming family man. I knew very little about my dad growing up. He was not a big talker, certainly not about himself. Mom did most of the talking; she and Dad seemed happy that way; and family gossip such as it was came exclusively from Mom’s side. By the time I left for college Dad and I had formed-or more likely fallen into-an easy if unspoken alliance as the quieter, less volatile members of a family of quick-tempered, easily offended Irish extroverts. So when my sorority decided to have a Father-Daughter Weekend I didn’t think twice about inviting him. The Father-Daughter Weekend quickly evolved to become a surprisingly big deal for a group of silly, boy-obsessed 19-year olds. Maybe we were all daddy’s girls at heart. Anyway, I remember hoping Dad would come even though I thought he might not since Mom wasn’t speaking to me that week. I don’t remember why. But they went everywhere together. Would he come alone? “Of course, wouldn’t miss it”, Dad called to say.

Yellow Bird by Carol Bouville

Where are you yellow bird?

Yellow Bird

 

Text and Illustration

by

Carol Bouville

 

Yellow Bird belonged to a family of two young children and two very busy parents. He was a gift to them from a family friend after they had moved into their new house. At first the children thought that now their parents would surely get them a puppy, since they had a lovely yard they could all play in together. But the parents had too much to do with their jobs and growing children and a new house with a lawn to mow on the weekends.

“We’ll see about a puppy once we get settled,” said the mother.

“When you are a little older and can help take care of it,“ said the father.

The children were unhappy that they would not soon be getting a pet.

“How about a cat, then?” asked the girl. She was the older of the two.

“Cats scratch the upholstery, and the litter box has to be kept very clean, or it will smell bad,” said the mother.

“I’m allergic to cat dander,” said the father.

“What’s that?” asked the boy? He was almost six and was curious about new words.

“It’s something on their skin that is like human dandruff and it makes me sneeze,” said the father.

“What’s dandruff?” the boy asked.

“Dry skin that falls off your scalp,” respond the father.

“Yuk,” said the boy and walked away.

A hamster was too much like a mouse for the parents to accept, and fish were too boring for the children to get excited about, so the months passed with no pets in the new house.

 

Then one day a lady the children didn’t know came to the house for supper. The mother was very happy to see her good friend from college again.

“What a lovely home you have here, Dot,” said the lady, “and such adorable children. You must be so proud – and so busy.”

The mother smiled down at her children and then back at her friend. “Yes, Beverly, I am very happy. But I am also very, very busy. The children would really love a pet, but we just don’t have the time to take care of one.”

They sent out for pizza, and then Mrs. Beverly left.

 

Two days later a man called to make sure that someone was home, and then he arrived from the pet shop with a birdcage. Inside the cage was a small yellow bird. Even though it was all yellow like a canary, in fact it was a parakeet. It had a small crest on its forehead and tail feathers the color of bright sunshine. The bird was only four months old, the man told them. There was a note attached to the cage that read, “The perfect pet. Just give it food and water and let it sit on your finger from time to time. Love, Beverly.”

The children were quite excited. Once the bird got used to its new home, it chirped and danced around the cage when the children came near. After awhile, they began to take it out of its cage. It liked to perch on the boy’s outstretched hand or the girl’s shoulder. Sometimes it flew around the room and landed on the father’s head. Everyone loved the bird, but no one could find a better name for it than Yellow Bird.

 

And so it lived with the family and brought them joy. Then one day at the start of summer, just as the school year was ending, the mother was bringing in groceries from the garage at the same time as the girl had just opened the cage. Before anyone realized it, Yellow Bird flew into the kitchen, through the open door to the garage and outside into the endless blue sky. The children ran out to the backyard calling “Yellow Bird, Yellow Bird”, but the bird did not hear them. It soared up into a tall oak tree in the yard across the street, then flew back out again, letting the breeze lift it up above the rooftops, only to disappear from view as it melted into the afternoon sunlight.

That evening, no one could eat a thing. Everyone, even the father who tried to be calm and strong, cried with his wife and children. “We will get you another bird,” said the father.

“We don’t want another bird,” said the daughter.

“We want Yellow Bird to come back,” wailed the son.

“We will put a notice on the internet to let all our neighbors know about Yellow Bird. He can’t have gone very far,” the mother tried to reassure them.

 

But Yellow Bird did go far. He was free, joyously free, to fly high and then to swoop down low, to peck in the dirt like a mourning dove, to eat at a neighbor’s bird feeder like a sparrow, to sit on a prickly hedge like a goldfinch. He even thought he might be a goldfinch or maybe a warbler even though he did not have any black feathers anywhere. Neither the goldfinches nor the warblers were interested in being friends with Yellow Bird. In the end, he stayed with the sparrows. They did not try to chase him away from the seeds that fell from a feeder or from water in a bird bath or a rain-filled gutter. It was summer – warm and gusty, like a sudden storm, and the soft evening breezes cooled the air and caressed the leaves that protected Yellow Bird from the rain. He felt a happiness at being free that outweighed his sorrow from leaving the family who had loved him and taken good care of him. But he knew now what it was like to be a real bird and not a pet, and he thought he would never go back.

 

The mother put his picture on the internet and a few people responded that they were pretty sure they had seen Yellow Bird. But no one knew what to do to catch him and bring him home. One lady tried to put a pillowcase over him while he was under her bird feeder, but she missed, and Yellow Bird never came back there again. Finally, the parents had to tell their children that Yellow Bird was probably gone for good. The girl cried very hard, especially because she worried about what would happen to him when summer was over, and the nights would get colder.

“We will put out his cage and hang it from the maple tree in our front yard and put food in it for him and a woolen scarf over the cage to keep it warm inside,” said the father.

The children stopped crying. “Let’s do it now”, said the boy. And so they did.

 

For many weeks they checked the cage four or five times a day. They replaced the water but saw that the seed was never eaten because the other birds and squirrels were afraid to enter the cage. “Only Yellow Bird will go in there,” said the mother. “We must not give up hope.”

 

The parents bought a bird feeder and a bird bath that they set out in the yard near where the cage was hanging from a lower limb of the maple tree. Little by little, the leaves on that tree started to turn from fresh green like new grass to a darker green like cucumbers. The sun set closer to 7:30 instead of 9:00, as it did when they first got Yellow Bird. But the nights were still warm in early September when the children started back to school. Some evenings the family sat on the front porch staring at the bird cage, wishing with all their might that Yellow Bird would come flying home.

And then one morning when they were getting into the car to go to school, they saw a bright yellow dot flitting from branch to branch in the oak tree across the street.

“It’s just a goldfinch or a warbler,” said the mother. “But we will check the cage this evening to see if any of the seed is gone.”

All day the children thought about Yellow Bird. Neither could focus on their lessons. The girl was told twice by her teacher to look at her books instead of out the window.

“What has gotten into you today?” Asked the teacher.

Then the girl told the class the story of Yellow Bird. “Well,” said the teacher, “if he ever comes home we will all be very glad for you.” Everyone in the class agreed and promised to think very hard about Yellow Bird.

“Maybe your bird will feel the energy of all of us wishing him a safe return,” said the teacher.

That evening when the father, who was the only one tall enough to see into the cage, checked the seed, he could tell some had been eaten. “It’s probably a squirrel or another bird who has seen the cage all this time and is not afraid of it anymore.”

“No,” said the children, “it has to be Yellow Bird.”

Everyday now they replaced the missing seed, but they never saw anything in the cage.

Soon it would be the end of September. The first day of autumn when the night and the day are the same length, had come and gone. It was getting dark now around 7:00 and the temperature was falling overnight. Every evening the father put a woolen shawl over the birdcage.

 

Yellow Bird watched as some of other birds flew away to the south, to a warmer place for the winter. The past winter had been particularly cold, and the changing of the seasons brought a sense of urgency to all the birds. These who would not migrate would need to prepare a shelter for the colder weather and find other food sources for when the ground would finally freeze up hard. One night, after a loud and gusty thunderstorm, as the temperature dropped into the 50’s, Yellow Bird sensed danger coming at him through the wind he so loved to ride on as he flew from above the rooftops and trees. He knew that soon it would be hard for him to stay warm enough for a bird who was born to live indoors. As more and more of his companions left, he began to think of how he might go back home again. He sat on a branch of another maple tree, like the one in his front yard, and tried to remember.

One day while he was circling above the rooftops of the neighborhood, he noticed a birdcage hanging from a tree like the one where he had taken shelter from the summer downpours. The tree was starting to lose its leaves, so now he could clearly see the cage from above. He had loved being in the wild when there were plenty of bugs in the dirt and when the warm sun lit him up like a big bright lightbulb. But now he shivered with fear of not being able to survive outdoors anymore.

He alit on the top of the bird cage and recognized it as his own. Yet he wasn’t quite ready to be taken inside again, probably forever. He on settled the one of the branches closest to the tree trunk where it was the warmest and waited.

 

Most of the nights were cold now, and many of the leaves that still protected Yellow Bird were fast turning dry and brown. He knew he had to make his decision soon or he would not be strong enough to survive. And then, as the sun was setting, he saw a shadow cross the yard and reach up to the cage. It was the father who every evening put fresh seed into the cage and the woolen scarf over the open bars to ward off the cold. He always left the cage door open, and he always looked around and up into the trees to see if he could spot Yellow Bird. The father sighed in a sad way that sounded almost like a sob. “Oh, Yellow Bird, if you are out there, please come back to us before it’s too late.” And then he turned to go back into the house.

Suddenly the father thought he saw a streak of yellow out of the corner of his eye. He heard a noise that sounded like the creak of something metal moving in the wind. He turned to see if there were still birds visiting the feeder so close to nighttime. And then he saw the bird cage move and heard the sound of scratching coming from the cage. It was almost completely dark now, but the moon had risen high enough to cast a warm glow over the front yard. The father thought he must be imagining something yellow in the cage, but as he crept ever so slowly nearer, he could see for sure that he was not dreaming. It was Yellow Bird! He reached up inch by inch until his hand was even with the cage door and pushed it shut with a clap. It startled Yellow Bird, who regretted for a fleeting moment that he was now a captive inside the cage. The father unhooked the cage and carefully carried it into the house so as not to spill a drop of water or further upset the bird inside who was beating its wings against the bars. He set the cage on the kitchen counter and opened the door so Yellow Bird would know he would not be trapped inside against his will. The bird flew out and came to rest on the curtain rod above the picture window in the dining room.

“It’s ok, Yellow Bird”, said the father, “you can live free inside, but please, please never fly away again.”

By now the children had showered, and they and the mother had come downstairs for supper.

“Shhh,” said the father as they entered the dining room, “Look who’s here with us for supper this evening.” The father pointed to the top of the curtain rod where Yellow Bird was perched. “I promised him we would never shut him up in the cage if he promised never to leave us again. I think he understands. Let’s eat and let him get used to being inside.”

The children had to cover their mouth so as not to shriek with joy from seeing that Yellow Bird was safely home. They were too excited to eat, and the parents allowed them to sit quietly on the floor and watch the bird. Finally, the boy could not sit still any longer. He got to his knees and put out his arm. “Please, Yellow Bird, come sit on my hand,” he whispered. “I’m so happy you are home.”

Yellow Bird looked at him and turned his head from side to side as parakeets do. And then he dropped down from the curtain rod with one flap of his wings and landed on the boy’s extended hand.

 

Yellow Bird lived to be quite old for a parakeet. He enjoyed the freedom of being able to fly around the house at will. He followed the children from room to room and also loved to sit on the father’s head after dinner to watch the evening news on TV. The mother never again brought groceries inside from the garage until she had watched the heavy door roll down and tap shut against the cement floor. What she didn’t realize was that Yellow Bird didn’t want to leave ever again.

The mother wrote about the story and put it on the internet. Neighbors responded to say how happy they were that the bird had returned. The local newspaper came to the house and took pictures of the family and of Yellow Bird and published the mother’s story. Yellow Bird became famous in the area as possibly the smartest parakeet who ever lived, because he had found his way back home.

 

 

 

 

Maria de Tounens-excerpt of “On the run”, by Mario Salazar

Maria de Tounens

In 1641 the Spanish monarchy signed a peace treaty with the Mapuche Nation that inhabited territory of what today is Chile and Argentina. Almost continuous conflict between the Spanish and the Mapuche had drained the coffers of the European nation with no positive results. After this treaty, the Mapuche became the first independent nation in the Western Hemisphere. An uneasy peace followed, with frequent violations of the treaty by both parties.

In 1860 the Mapuche nation headed by the troika of Lonkos Kilapan of Gulumapu, Kalfucura of Puelmapu, and Orélie-Antoine de Tounens (French born naturalized Mapuche), established a constitutional monarchy on their lands in the Southern Cone of South America. The response by Chile and Argentina was to declare war on the newly created monarchy that resulted in the defeat of the Mapuche, the destruction of the monarchy and the annexation of the land by these two nations.

Ahead of the persecution that would follow, all functionaries of the monarchy fled. Maria’s family relocated in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Maria had been raised in a middle-class family, as her father was a dentist and her mother a teacher. Upon learning of her ancestry, she became a firebrand for Native American rights. As part of these process she changed her name from Maria Bravo to Maria de Tounens. Eventually she moved to Uruguay and answered a job offering for the Company in which Francisco Gallo worked.

She would always remember the job interview with Francisco. She had dressed rather exotically. She wore a long flowing blouse that she had gotten from a trip to Otavalo, Ecuador, brushed leather pants with fringes and moccasins. The attire was a combination of pieces that she had picked up in her travels while a good will ambassador for Native Americans. The moccasins had been given to her by the San Carlos Apache tribe of New Mexico.

Francisco had been intrigued with Maria’s application and did not bat an eye when he gave her access at the lobby of the building. He did notice her long slim body and her chiseled facial features. Notwithstanding her attire, she could have been a light-skin Ethiopian model.

When they arrived at the conference room where the interview had been scheduled, Francisco inquired, “What would you like to drink?”

Sitting down Maria chose, “I would like water with gas, I mean ‘club soda’, please.”

Francisco opened a refrigerator in the back of the room and served Maria the water. He then sat down, reviewed her credentials and asked some questions related to Maria’s work with causes. He then unexpectedly reverted to English and asked her, “What of value can you offer us if we hire you?”

Without hesitation Maria responded in clear and slightly accented English, “I am a self-starter, work independently and I am stubborn as hell, I always get the work done.”

Francisco then asked her, “I see that while you appear to have some knowledge of computers, you don’t have any formal training for the position that you are interviewing for. Why should we hire you?”

Maria looked him in the eyes and responded, “I have a logical mind and have found any challenges I had regarding informational technology easy to overcome. I can guarantee that I will be your best assistant in less than six months”.

Her prediction was too conservative. In three months she had become indispensable in the office.

No light at the end of the tunnel

No light at the end of the tunnel

He ran down the cylindrical tunnel, there were doors alternating each side every 20 yards or so. As he reached the doors, discovered that they were painted on the side of the tunnel, he could not find a way out. Miguel woke up sweating and with his left arm and shoulder dumb, from the posture of his sleep.

The attack on Dionisio the day before had been a wakeup call. There were too many unanswered questions with the incident. His subconscious was telling him that there were dangerous days ahead. He decided to confront Dionisio that same day. It was only six in the morning, he would get ready, have a cup of coffee and wait for Dionisio to wake up.

Miguel was pleasantly surprised when he entered the kitchen and found Dionisio there already having a cup of coffee. He had gotten out of bed, made coffee and was waiting for him, maybe. He appeared to be wearing his night clothes and had a resolute look in his face.

As Miguel made his presence obvious with a – “Good morning Dio, kind of early for you?”

Dionisio lifted his face and without even a smile said, — “Good morning (he still has not figured out how to address Miguel), I have something to tell you.”

As Miguel looked expectantly, Dio continued, — “The mugging is not a single case, I have been having problems with this gang for a while. Seems that this time they were ready to kill me.”

As Miguel got a cup of coffee and sat down, Dio added more.

“Some months ago, I was asked a favor by Vanesa, a person I knew. I didn’t know her well enough, so I didn’t know she was heavily involved with the MS13 gang. I knew her casually from high school, she was the kind of girl that was above my league, so I had admired her from a distance.”

“I was at the Roy Rogers and I had just noticed her and had waived, when two policemen, probably in their lunch break came in the door. She immediately approached me, sat at my table and while she slipped a small package into my backpack, deposited her food bag on the table. She started talking as if we had been together all along. I had to admire her skills, but at the same time should have realized the kind of deceit in her.”

“After the cops got their order and left to sit outside, she finished her food and waited for the cop cars to drive off. She told me that she owed me one and would put in a good word for me. She then retrieved the package from my backpack and with a radiant smile and a bat of her long eyelashes, she left.”

Dio then stopped and looked at Miguel expecting questions, when none came he continued, “About one week later, a guy that looked like he was the poster child for Central American gangs, approached while I was sitting on the sideline of a pickup soccer game at the Centerway Park. He told me that he had gotten really good recommendations about me, and that I could be made very happy in his outfit.”

“I must have looked at him as if he was speaking Greek to me, because he clarified his words. He told me that he was in the MS13, gang ‘the only and the original’ and that he could get me in the gang. He said Vanesa had spoken well about me and that I could be a person to be trusted.”

“He then told me that since I looked like a “good American boy”, the MS13 could use me for some jobs were stealth was necessary. Yea, I was surprised he used stealth, I had to look it up.”

On the run by Mario Salazar, read at the last two meetings.

Please note: This is a first, stream of consciousness draft. Please comment on content, not grammar. I will have this edited later.

Dio gets carless 

            Dio woke up that morning with new hope. His talk with Miguel had revamped his decision to turn a new leaf and maybe restart his college plans. He decided to walk to the county library to do some research on classes at the local community college.

He decided to take the short cut to the library. It would take him through the park that surrounded the artificial lake that was the crown jewel of the neighborhood. He used this short cut often, even when it was not a true shorter way.

As he crowned the top of a hill and started to descent into the lake shore, he noticed a young man leaning against a fence that separated the trail from the lake and was probably built to prevent bike riders from going into the lake.

As he approached the young man he noticed him to be slight and probably Latino. Knowing that as a more corpulent person he could hold his own, he approached.

The young man, in a casual way addressed him, – “Hey man, do you have some change?”.

Dio stopped and as he started looking in his pockets for some lose change, he looked away for a second. He felt the thud of the punch on the left side of his face just above the eye. The pain was followed by starts and he lost consciousness.

 

Miguel was wondering why Dio had not been at the house when he woke up. Dio had shown gratitude at being able to stay, and had listened to Miguel’s remarks about the need to think of his future.

When his portable phone buzzed late in the afternoon, he was tempted to ignore it. However, he answered cautiously – “What can I do for you?”

“This is nurse Neela from the Holy Cross Hospital in Germantown. Mr. Dionisio Serga asked me to contact you regarding a crime he was a victim of this morning. First let me tell you that he is OK, he needed some stitches and we have given him a prescription for pain pills. He is a little groggy as he has already been medicated.”

Miguel thought about what he has just learned and after a few seconds asked, – “If you don’t’ mind telling me, why are you calling me?’

A little taken by surprised the nurse responded, – “He has given us your name and phone number as the person to contact. While he appears to be fine, the hospital would rather he goes home. Apparently, he doesn’t have insurance and we have to exhaust all avenues to have him discharged, as we need the beds.”

For paying patients. Thought Miguel.

“Sure, I will pick him up. Were the police informed?”

“Yes, they were also here and talked to him, but he didn’t have much to say about the incident. They asked him where he lived and he said he was homeless.”

“Can you tell me anything else?”

“He was assaulted at Lake Whetstone by two men. Fortunately, a neighbor walking his dog came upon the scene and the muggers took off running. He called an ambulance and he was bought here.”

Miguel appreciated the presence of mind of Dio not revealing where he was staying and made arrangements to pick him up.

More than a mugging?

It was starting to get dark when Miguel got in his car to pick up Dio at the hospital. He was using a ten-year-old Toyota Celica that gave him the profile he wanted, minimal.

As he drove the five miles to the hospital he tried to organize his thoughts. It wasn’t like him to be caught off guard with a situation like this. But again, how can one plan for the unexpected? Maybe setting up levels of awareness would help, what does that really mean? He thought.

As agreed Dio was waiting at the emergency entrance sitting on a wheel chair. A bored orderly smiled when he saw Miguel’s plain vanilla car and mentally kissed a good tip goodbye.

Miguel stopped, got out of the car and approached the duo and said to Dio as he helped him get into the passenger seat, “Wow, that is some bandage, you look like you had major brain surgery”.

Dio looked at him with a dazed stare and did not appear to understand the attempted humor by Miguel. Then smiled and said, “You should see the other guy.”

Defying stereotypes, Miguel produced a five-dollar bill and gave it to the orderly who tried not very strongly to not accept it. Upon the former’s insistence, the orderly pocketed the fin and decided that he would follow his father’s advice to be more optimistic about human nature.

As Miguel pulled away from the curb he asked Dio, “So, how bad is it? It is difficult to tell with all that gauze on it.”

Dio took out his phone and after some swiping he waited for a light to show the selfie he had taken just before they had glued the wound.

“That doesn’t look like a normal punch to me, I bet the guy was using brass knuckles.” Remarked Miguel as he drove off.

Dio thought for a while and responded, “All I know is that I felt like someone had scrambled my brains with a baseball bat, I was out cold and remembered only when I was being put into the ambulance.”

Miguel thought, this I not a mugging, they wanted to harm badly or kill him. I have to find out what is behind this.

Dio was starting to wrestle on whether he should come clean. This M13 shit is not going away, he thought.

Except from “On the run”, by Mario Salazar

In a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC

Miguel’s home in Maryland was in a planned community about 30 miles from the DC line and had been built in the late 1960s. He chose it for its anonymity and privacy. It was a small one floor detached house with a zero-lot line on one side. It had an eight-foot wall that surrounded the building and yard and it was almost impossible to be viewed from outside. A mail slot on the door hid the fact that mail could be accumulating inside and Miguel’s frequent visits kept the house clean and anonymous.

This development was favored by transient people that rented or retired people that were away for months during the year. The fact that he was seldom there was not unusual.

He also paid a young man to keep the outside trim and anonymous. In the three years that he had owned the house, everything had gone well and there wasn’t anything to make the house unusual.

When Miguel arrived unexpectedly at around 2:00 AM, he set in motion a series of events that threatened his secret existence.

Miguel used his remote garage opener and rode his vehicle in. He entered the house proper through a common door. As he deactivated his security system and turned around, he was confronted by a young man holding a baseball bat in a defensive posture. Apparently, the young man that he had paid to keep the outside of the house in good shape had figured out that Miguel was seldom in it and had moved in, expecting to time his exit to sync with Miguel’s next regular trip.

As Miguel calmly assessed the situation he recognized Dionisio Serga, the young man that had been maintaining the outside of his house and made a guess of why he was there.  Dionisio had also recognized him and was probably also thinking how to explain his trespasses, as he lowered the bat.

Miguel waited until both he and Dionisio had taken a deep breath and then he asked: “How would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Uh…, no thanks”

Miguel proceeded to the kitchen and remarked:

“Well, I definitely could use one”

Dionisio followed Miguel into the kitchen and sat at the breakfast table and quietly observed coffee been made.

While waiting for the brew, Miguel joined Dionisio at the dinette and asked him: – “How do you think we should resolve this situation?”

Surprised, Dionisio took a few minutes to formulate an answer – “First let me tell you why I was crashing in your house. My mom remarried about one year ago and I don’t like my stepfather and he doesn’t like me either. He finally gave my mom and ultimatum that it was either him or me.”

“I didn’t give my mom a chance to choose and told her that I would leave. She seemed relieved by my decision. I went to live with a friend, but his girlfriend just moved in also and the place is very small. I had figured out that you only come about every six weeks and decided to move in instead of living on the street or a shelter. The money I earn is not enough for me to get a half way decent room. As you can see, I have kept the place extremely clean and no one knows I am staying here. I come in late at night and leave through the back gate after most people have left for work.”

Miguel had hoped for this type of answer from the boy. He liked the fact that he hadn’t tried to deny fault and that he appeared sincere. He also noticed that the home was impeccable, as if no one lived in it.

He got up and asked Dionisio to go back to sleep and promised that they would come up with a solution the next morning. The boy appeared grateful that he wasn’t going to spend the night outside. Miguel was also thankful that Dionisio had used the extra bedroom and not his. It kind of told him that he was not intent of just taking advantage of him.

Trip to the Middle by Mario Salazar

The trip to the Middle

On the morning of the trip Jon A again questioned himself whether his trip to the Middle was such a good idea. The last few days spent with Fernanda A had a lot to do with his reluctance. While she knew and she had promised that she would be waiting for him. Leaving was still very hard.

With thoughts of “this is a small sacrifice….” He got himself ready and walked to the “footer” that would transport him to the mag station. Besides the clothes on his back, he carried a small book size bag with his papers, communicator and an energy dehi in case he got hungry. He had been told that his luggage and equipment would be waiting for him at the transition area.

The abrupt notification that he had reached his destination almost made him lose hold of the footer handles. Of course, there was very little to worry about since the safety net would have caught him, with probably a little laughter and good intended ridicule from his fellow riders.

At his arrival, he followed the crowd to the terminal. A syn-Porter at the door eyed each person and pointed to the door for each passenger to go. His completely natural voice reinforced his directive, “Jon A, good morning professor, door three please.” Three appeared to be his lucky number. He knew that as an approved visitor of the middle, he would be placed in the first train to depart. Reminding travelers of the benefits of his current place residence was another way of trying to improve the chances that he would return.

After making himself comfortable in his seat he looked around. He saw several other persons that would probably be travelling with him to the Middle. They all looked excited and a little apprehensive. The nearest person to him, a middle-aged woman, smiled and inquired, “What is it that you wish to find in the Middle?”. Jon A liked the direct approach and the smiley face and bright intelligent eyes of his travel companion.

“I am Jon A, I am interested in the past and believe that my trip will improve my teaching. I think seeing the past as the present will also be very interesting and an experience of a life time. By the way, I throw the same question to you.”

“I am Bella TA and I am coming back to the Middle. I was fascinated by some of the people and way of life in the Middle. I am an Anthropologist by profession and work for the government.” The two initials after her name indicated that she had been born on land and had moved to one of the sea colonies. This was unusual as most people wanted to stay and/or live on land.

After a few seconds, Jon A asked, “Is this a work trip then?”

She shook her head and remarked, “No I am doing this as part of a personal project, I want to write a book comparing our form of life and the life in the Middle. I know that this is a very challenging task, but I don’t think my approach has been used before.”

Putting his academic hat on Jon A asked, “What do you think is the most blaring difference between the two modes of life?”.

Bella TA thought for a few seconds and responded, “To me the fact that a significant number of people rather live a life of variable potential is fascinating. We in the World know what our lives are and will be, and find that very comforting, they reject that premise. What makes a person like that?”

This simple statement made Jon A think. What were his real reasons for his trip?

Before the trip to the Middle

The thought of absence makes the heart fonder

Jon A received a very fast authorization to travel to the Middle. Included were instructions on how to update his self-chip to receive new and more protective features. He was also guided to the relocation center where the work would be done.

The relocation center was only a few minutes away from his place of work. After teaching his classes that some time ended with spontaneous applause, alas not this time, he walked to the nearest “footer” station. He made a smooth transition into the continuous travel belt, inserting his foot easily into the stirrup. He remembered how when he was young he overthought this process and was always afraid of falling. He arrived at the relocation center in less than 10 minutes. While walking had been an option, he had done an extra 30 minutes of exercise that morning and after standing on his feet for three hours teaching he was a little tired.

As he entered the center he saw that additional finger stations had been put into operation. There were now five as well as a “manual” booth at the end for those that needed special assistance. For symmetry, he chose the middle one and inserted his index finger in the reader. This action coupled with the simultaneous reading of his self-chip by surrounding sensors prompted a response, “Jon A. Frisco, please proceed to door number three (again the middle door), please take your token”. A small disk the size of a dollar coin was ejected from a rectangular opening just below the reader and Jon A took it. The disk contained hash information that would key the type of process and materials that Jon A would need for his trip and stay in the Middle.

Upon opening the assigned door, Jon A inserted the disk in the front of the Human Services Combine or “hiss” as was commonly referred. A feminine voice instructed, “Please disrobe and place your feet in the marks on the floor”. Jon A looked down and saw a projected image of feet and stood on it. Jon A complied and removed his one piece garment.

He was also advised, “Please lower the harness and locate it on your shoulders, be sure to insert your head in the loop, your arms must hang loosely and straight down your torso.” After a few seconds, he was admonished “Please rotate your pelvis forward, so that your arms hang more naturally”. After this final instruction, the machine appeared to be satisfied and asked Jon A to breath normally.

What followed was a choreographed performance worthy of a ballet. He was given three air injections, a sensor searched and found his self-chip and updated it and several images to be used for his travelling and identifying documents were taken. With a very soft touch an instrument prodded his body, obtained and recorded his vital signs: temperature, blood pressure, height, weight and body mass index. The government was always collecting data, but especially from people travelling to the Middle. The data collected now would be compared with that collected upon his return.

Not giving Jon a chance to feel uncomfortable, the whole process ended in less than three minutes. Jon A was further asked, “Please get dressed and place your communicator in the spot marked by the blue light, we will update your data bases, add others and upload your travel authorization documents, transportation tickets and schedules. You will find other physical needs in the basket near the exit door, make sure you compare the inventory with the actual objects to make sure you have everything. If there is a discrepancy, we will resolve it immediately. Please make sure to retrieve your communicator and to gather the rest of the items before you leave the room.” After a few seconds the voice returned, “your communicator is now ready, please fetch it. Thank you for your patience.”

With a smile of satisfaction for having completed all his pre-trip tasks, Jon A started to think how he was going to approach the most enjoyable part of his days before the trip.

He was scheduled to take the mag to Terra only two weeks after the Reply. Time flew as it does when a trip is eminent.  Jon A decided to spend as much time as possible with his pair. They have selected to pair with each other through a very long process and as was the norm, she was everything he would have wished. He had been given assurances by her that he was also what she ever wished for.

As he entered the manifold to the podhive she lived in, he started thinking of the little time that he would have with her and how to best use it.

He inserted his finger in the finder and his image appeared in her communicator. She immediately activated the access button for him to be able to enter her pod.

She was at the door to greet him, “Hello love, I really want to give you a send off that you will not forget.” She held him tight and presented her lips for him to kiss.

“Fernanda A, it has been so long or seemed so long”. They had actually seen each other less than two days before.

She was dressed in his favorite attire. Al low cut blouse tied pirate style just below hear firm bust, courtesan pants and no shoes. The outfit really framed her strong athletic body and her voluptuous derriere. Her hair was up showing off her picaresque profile.

As he entered the public part of the pod he noticed that she had been busy setting up a feast. He first saw the oysters on the half shell and the salty lemonade that he liked so much. Small bowls with minced ginger, finely cut onions, Siracha sauce, lemon quarters and everything else that a raw oyster eater would have dreamed.  He knew that after the sumptuous appetizer, there would be a very blue piece of prime rib to enjoy with horse radish sauce. She had gone all out and probably had made a dent in her exotic food budget, especially considering the delicacies that she had and intended to serve.

He hugged again and expressed his joy, “Wow, this is out of this world, and a prelude to what I think one of the most wonderful nights of my life.”

She blushed and her eyes sparkled with anticipation. Reminded him of the lyrics of the old Bob Dylan song,

She wears an Egyptian ring that sparkles before she speaks.

Fernanda A did not need a ring. This scenario was to be repeated in the days before his trip.