by Jong-Won Kim
Q: Why did the Azzie chase his wife?
A: He wanted tequila.*
— Texan joke
“I should have been a dentist.”
Dr. Kristine Martin finished her fourth tequila, enjoying the burning sensation as it went down her throat and up to her brain. This was the high point of her daily routine — the rest was what fueled her new drinking habit. For the sixth or seventh time in less than one hour, she wondered how had it all ended up like this.
She should have seen it coming years ago. The constant obsession for profits, the need to stay one step ahead of the competition and the pressure to remain on top of her fellow teammates … She had done her share of questionable experiments — who didn’t in this day and age? Dr. Martin had always silenced her concerns about her crumbling ethics by telling herself it was all in the name of progress.
I’m an idiot. Another shot of tequila found its way to her stomach.
This drek is so bad that it’s going to kill me one of these days, she thought. Hell, why not? I didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger when I had a chance. Now he could hurt her daughter. Their daughter.
“Why did I ever love such a monster?” she whispered to herself.
“Bad day at home?” The English words had a notorious Aztlaner accent.
Dr. Martin looked at the cantina’s bartender as he prepared her another shot. Manuel was tanned and chubby, with an amicable smile that invited customers to relax and open up. He probably worked for Aztechnology or Universal Omnitech, just like everyone else in this Central American village.
“You could say so. I have a … rather dysfunctional marriage.”
Manuel pointed at the five empty glasses. “That bad?”
“Si.. My husband is an abusive bastard who doesn’t want to let me go.”
“You can always divorce him.”
I’d wish. “The problem is that he’s a very important man — a dangerous man. He has more than enough influence to make sure it will never happen … and he made it very clear once. So here we are, a happy little couple working side by side.”
“Ah, you work at the hill?”
“My husband owns the hill.” I bet you didn’t see that one coming, Manuel. I’m the Queen of the fraggin’ hill and I’m even more of a slave than the lowest corporate employee.
He looked pensive for a few seconds. “Impressive … If I may ask, why are you here? This isn’t a bad place, but most of the people up there wouldn’t come here for all the pesos in the world.”
“I think you just answered yourself.”
“If things are so bad, why does he let you come here? Isn’t he afraid you could run away?”
“I tried that not so long ago. He took it as an insult and had me hunted like an animal. His men brought me back so that he could break me down, which he did. I’m in Hell and he makes sure that I know he rules it. Even these moments here are just a reminder of what I lost. Friends, prestige, power, family.”
“Family? You have kids?”
“A daughter in Tenochtitlán. I’m sure they’re feeding her bulldrek about me, molding her into another loyal pawn. When they’re done with her, and believe me, they will, she’ll worship him just like every other corporate drone here. That is his revenge: He knows I love her so much that I won’t do anything as long as he has her secured.” And Chávez won’t hesitate to kill Gabrielle if ordered to do so … even if he always was Uncle Diego to her as a child. Frag, I hope I’m a nun in my next life.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met your husband, but judging from your words he must be a monster.”
“Oh he is, trust me, but he’s also an ill man. He stays at home and I take care of him like a good wife.” Sarcasm wasn’t her strength. Manuel would never fully understand it, anyway, being just another cog in the machine. She finished her drink. “More, please.”
“You drink like a man,” complimented Manuel.
Advantages of having some of my own toys. “I know.”
“And I thought I had problems at home with my chica. What do you want?”
“Just keep on with the tequila,” she answered.
“Very well,” he obliged, “but I was asking what did you want.”
This time it was Dr. Martin’s turn to look pensive. She stared at Manuel for a while, giving him a clinical eye. He just gave her another smile.
“You have the right jaw and tan, but you have all your front teeth. Who are you?”
“Why, I’m Manuel of course. A SIN never lies.”
“No you aren’t. What did you do to him?”
“Are you going to keep asking dumb questions like that? Tempus fugit. Time flies, doctor, I suggest you ask the right questions before your husband requests your assistance once again.”
“I had someone following me to this place, he will know… ,” Dr. Martin looked unsure, having just been reminded of her situation.
Manuel pointed at a corner, where a farmer seemingly slept his siesta. “You mean the guy who entered the cantina a minute after you did? That tequila he asked for was extra strong, if you get me. Unless he wants to report he fell asleep while on duty, he’ll just say everything went fine.”
“Who are you? Who do you work for?”
“My name doesn’t matter, I don’t exist. But my employer is an old friend of yours, someone who has followed your career with interest and is concerned about your current situation.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “That sounds too good to be true, considering my situation. How do I know this isn’t another sick little game?”
“You don’t, but I was told to deliver you this.” He handed her a small item. “Science without religion is lame… .”
“… religion without science is blind,” said Dr. Martin, finishing Einstein’s quote. She opened her hand and looked at its content. From a small, aging pin, the genius stuck out his tongue. She almost dropped it in surprise.
“The Copenhagen Biotech Convention. I was there with UniOmni’s negotiation team, nothing more than a young, bright rookie.”
“My employer remembers having some interesting conversations with you and your colleagues at a nightclub. You didn’t seem to be interested in mere profits like the others. You had dreams.”
She sighed. “That was a long time ago.”
“Some people have a long memory.”
“Excuse me?” It was his turn to be surprised.
“Not without my daughter. I won’t leave without her.”
“That can be arranged. How tough could it be?” Manuel, or whoever was in front of her, flashed a roguish smile.
“You’ll need some serious cojones to do that. Or a death wish — they won’t take it lightly.”
“We’ll take care of that part, it’s our specialty. Besides, I’ve been in worse situations. Back when I worked with the Colombians, I had to spend some quality time in La Gorgona, courtesy of Aztechnology Corporate Security.”
Dr. Martin’s eyes widened in surprise. “You mean Gorgon Island? The maximum security hellhole?”
“Those words can’t even begin to describe it,” said Manuel, or whoever it was behind his face. “It is as if there is something evil in there, sucking away your life one day at a time.”
I know how it feels, chummer… . “So how did you escape? It’s not like Televisa would ever mention something like that.”
Manuel served himself some tequila. He looked at it for a while before answering. “I was rotting away in the Gorgon’s belly, hoping for death to come soon. Then, one day, a strange guy came out of nowhere with an offer from an old friend of mine. Sound familiar?”
“Anyway, it’s not me or our mutual friend that we should be talking about now. I’ll ask again: interested?”
“Good. It will take some time, but I suspect my employer has already set things in motion. She has this habit of making things fall her way, you know.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be gone tonight. I need to make sure that Manuel has a terrible accident with his gas oven while sleeping his siesta.”
Dr. Martin frowned. “Is that necessary?”
“What would you do for your daughter? For the future?”
“Then you just answered yourself. Do you have any other questions?”
“No, I just need another shot of tequila.”
“Sure, it’s on the house.”
Manuel watched as Dr. Martin stumbled out of the cantina, half drunk with tequila and hope. His mistress had been right: the doctor was a survivor, ripe for extraction and recruitment. Oh, she would require a little guidance and a few adjustments, but that wouldn’t be much of a problem — it hadn’t been in his case, at least.
*A phonetic joke; Texans frequently pronounce it “tuh-KILL-ya” or “tuh-KILL-er.”