The toy store was air conditioned, but not so cold that you would notice it. Not unless you had just walked in from the asphalt parking lot in back, where the temperature hovered around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It was bearable inside, and in Albuquerque in June, that was enough, considering the frequency of citywide power outages. The shop's dusty ceiling was low, the aisles were cramped, the shelves half-filled with last year's toys and overlooked games. In its favor, it had entrances both in front on Central Avenue, and in the back behind the mini shopping center.
Luis Carvahal entered through the rear doors. He was wearing shorts, running shoes and a plain gray t-shirt that was dark with sweat. Carvahal had the physique of a much younger man, but his deeply lined face betrayed his late middle age. He propped his sunglasses up on his curly gray hair, and as his eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, he found his contact seemingly shopping in the middle of a center aisle.
His contact was more than a decade younger than he was, perhaps only in his mid-forties. Carvahal thought the man looked like a typical Telemundo or Unavision network newscaster. He was the standard clean-shaven and fair-skinned Latino from central casting, with wavy chestnut hair and gentle brown eyes. Both men were exactly the same height, five feet eleven inches, so when they met, they literally saw eye to eye.
His contact was an FBI Supervisory Special Agent named Alexandro Garabanda.
After the brief eye contact, he turned toward the shelves and stage-whispered, agitated. "I don't like meeting in stores. You know I don't like meeting in stores! You're supposed to be a pro at this--didn't they teach you this in spy school? And the Toy Hut? What am I supposed to be doing in a toy store? I'm 58 for God's sake--I look like a pervert trolling for kids in here. I stand out like a sore thumb."
They didn't shake hands, but pretended to be looking at games on the same shelf. "No Luis, you look like a grandfather. A grandfather, shopping for a special birthday gift for a favorite grandson."
"Well, I don't have a grandson. Or any son, not any more." He sighed, and grew pensive. He pulled off his daypack and removed a small white towel, and used it to wipe his face dry. "You know, after 300 years, I'm the last of the original Carvahals in Albuquerque. The end of the line." He took a clear plastic bottle of water out of a side pouch and drank from it.
"I'm sorry for setting up our meeting here, but this place was the best I could do on short notice. I had to bring my son, and he can play with the toys while we talk. Half of the time when I leave my house or I leave work, I'm getting plain-clothed Milicias tailing me. The Special Surveillance Group. I needed a decent cover, in case I was followed here. Father, son, toy store."
"I forgot: it's Saturday. You've got weekend custody, right?"
"Barely. I'm supposed to, but it hardly ever works out that way. It's not like I work nine to five, and my wife, my ex-wife--"
The toddler was near the end of the aisle, sitting on the ground playing with wind-up racecars, letting them go and chasing after them, smiling and laughing. The child was dressed in denim shorts and a camouflage pattern t-shirt.
"He's Brian, right?"
"Right, Brian. Five years old."
"I'm sorry Alex, I get so damned nervous. I always feel like I'm being followed. There are people in here..."
"Not on this aisle," said the FBI agent. He was wearing jeans and a Navy-blue polo shirt, with a brown vest on the outside. The unzipped vest resembled one that might be worn by an angler or a photographer. It covered his belt, and concealed his .40 caliber Sig-Sauer pistol. Thin layers of ballistic cloth sewn inside the vest would stop bullets from most standard pistols. "Don't worry, I checked the place out. Nobody followed me today, and nobody came in after me, or after you. It's clean. The Toy Hut's not a chain store, so it's not in the National Surveillance Network. It's too old, too small. Its cameras aren't linked to the NSN; they don't go anywhere. I checked."
"Well they better watch out anyway: they've still got 'Toy Hut' on all the big signs outside. Putting up a couple of 'Casita de Juguetes' placards, that won't satisfy the hotheads. The Spanish has to be on the biggest signs, not the English."
"Well, why don't you tell them, then?" Garabanda snapped. "Sorry, I know, it's not your fault. I mean, can you even believe this crap? Spanish Only--what the hell is that? Is this America, or not?" He shook his head slowly, resigned. "You know, a year ago when you told me that Agustin Deleon would be elected governor, I said you were nuts. But you called it Luis, you called it."
"Yeah, well, that and twenty bucks will buy me a cup of coffee. Alex, I don't want to complain too much, but at least you drove here. I had to ride my bike, three miles and every inch uphill. I can never get enough gas. I can't afford it, and I can't get enough gas coupons."
"What's the matter, the Mountain Lion can't toss some gas cards your way? I thought you were in tight with El Gobernador?" Garabanda was ribbing him--Deleon's stinginess was infamous. The governor retained the lifelong habits of frugality, which had sustained him during his years of exile, during his hard years in the wilderness.
"I am, but..."
"But no extra gas cards. I thought you were an insider now, Deleon's buddy?"
"Alex--enough joking around. I've got important information. You know the Democrats in the Senate--the U.S. Senate--they're supporting the revolution in Mexico."
"I look at the computer from time to time," said Garabanda. "Sometimes I even turn on the TV."
"Funny. You know I was up in Santa Fe yesterday, with Deleon. Anyway, he got a call from Senator Kelly while I was with him in his office, after dinner. He was showing off...he let me listen in on another line."
"Why would he do that, Luis?"
"Why? Because I'm ghostwriting his memoirs, why else? The man is 82 years old. He wants me to know everything, see everything from his point of view, right? He trusts me a hundred percent, and he's very, very serious about his memoirs. Believe me, this was a proud moment for the Mountain Lion, taking a call from the senior senator from Massachusetts. I mean, it validates him, he thinks. Everything from the courthouse raid in '70, to prison, to exile, to the election--his entire life! So of course he wanted me to hear it...for his memoirs."
"So what did Kelly tell Deleon, that the FBI should know? You don't actually think I can send up a report on it, do you? On a private conversation between a U.S. senator and a governor?"
"Shit. I didn't consider that. Well, I'll give it to you anyway. Do what you can with it. Kelly's not going to object to the New Mexico land reform laws. He's going to support them in Congress, so they're a done deal. The special tax on ranches over a thousand acres, the Spanish Land Grant Commission--everything. Looks like Washington's not going to oppose any of it, as long as the state stays away from federal land. And you already know the President won't say a word. With Los Angeles burning, she can't afford to alienate the Hispanics?"
"I could've told you that. Our instructions from headquarters have been the same ever since this mess started: New Mexico 'land reform' is not a federal issue. We've already been directed by the DOJ to stay out of it, no matter how ugly it gets. So it really doesn't matter if Senator Kelly confirmed it to El Gobernador."
"Alex, that's all just background. There's more. I haven't gotten to the interesting part. This is why Kelly called: there's going to be a conference next week up north, some kind of mega-meeting of big shots. Politicos and tycoons are coming from all over. Heavy hitters only. Senator Kelly is coming down, and he said Senator Montaine is coming over too! Imagine those two cooperating on anything! Deleon didn't even know about the conference before this call, but it sounded like Kelly didn't know that he didn't know. Kelly must have assumed that El Gobernador was already in the loop about the meeting. Well, you know how cagey Deleon is--he played it like he knew all along--he didn't miss a beat. It's going to take place up at Wayne Parker's ranch next week. You won't believe who's coming: Orozco?"
"Pascual Orozco's not in charge of Mexico yet--there's still a revolution going on! Zorrero is still El Presidente."
"Not for long," replied Carvahal. "Zorrero is going to go on a permanent vacation in Ireland any time now, that's the rumor. He already owns a castle there, or at least his brother does. Zorrero is finished. Orozco will be the next El Supremo, one way or the other, and he's coming to Parker's ranch next week."
"Then this meeting must have been cleared with the White House."
"That's what I think too. It must have gotten the okay from on high; it had to have. And you wouldn't believe the guest list--thank God Senator Kelly is such a namedropper. Actually, he sounded pretty drunk. Besides the Senators, Paul Warburg is coming, and maybe Nicholas Biddle and Norman Montague. Imagine those billionaires, sitting down for dinner with a socialist like Pascual Orozco! Something huge is going to happen up there, something important."
"Like the Davos meetings, it sounds like." Garabanda was referring to the annual meeting of the so-called "World Economic Forum," sometimes held in the Swiss town of that name.
"No, not like Davos. Not hundreds guests, only a dozen or so. And all in private, all in secret. You know, Wayne Parker's ranch has its own jet runway--I mean, the Vedado Ranch is almost a million acres. I'm guessing it has something to do with Orozco taking over in Mexico, or maybe it's about the Constitutional Convention in September. Maybe it's about the 'North American Community.' I'm just guessing--Senator Kelly wasn't specific. But whatever it's about, it's going to be major, judging by who's coming."
"Luis, what am I supposed to do with this kind of information? Send an Intel report to Washington, saying that a couple of U.S. senators are meeting secretly with foreign leaders and billionaires in New Mexico? Just because a well known drunk like Senator Kelly made a private phone call to the governor? I can't send a report like that. You could leak something like that to the media--that might work. Put it out on the internet, the blogs might run with it. But it's political--it's completely out of my area of responsibility, and believe me, it's way, way above my pay grade. I need something else, something tangible. Maybe more information on the foreign fighters you said are coming over the border. Something hard, with pictures, with names and some solid documentation. Then maybe they'll pay attention at headquarters. Maybe."
Carvahal stage-whispered, "My God, you already know they've practically got a damned Mexican Ho Chi Minh trail running straight across the border and up into Colorado, and that's not enough? What more does Washington need?"
"Calm down Luis, don't make a scene... I don't know what it'll take, I just don't know. I can't even tell who's really running the show back at headquarters. It seems like sellouts and UN carpetbaggers are in most of the key positions. The way I see it, nobody's left back there who gives a damn about a sovereign America any more. New Mexico? Face it, we're a backwater, a sideshow. Washington has bigger problems to deal with than tinhorn radicals in 'Nuevo Mexico.' As long as they fly the Stars and Stripes over the capitol in Santa Fe, I don't think Washington gives a damn what else happens here. Not with L.A. burning and half of Detroit in a state of siege."
"Then what's the point, Alex? What are we doing this for?"
"What are we doing this for?" Garabanda repeated his question softly, taken aback. "Luis, that's a question I ask myself about a hundred times a day." He paused, and said quietly, "I suppose I'm just hanging on until retirement, is one answer. Maybe the only one..."
"Aren't you already over twenty years? I guess you got screwed on that deal."
"You got that right. I was at nineteen when they changed the minimum to twenty-five years. 'Take it or leave it.' Bastards!"
"Listen, you weren't the only one who got screwed. Remember, my entire pension evaporated into thin air when the Herald went belly-up. At least you feds will still get paid, even if they're only going to pay you in blue bucks."
"Luis, by the time I retire, they'll probably be pink or red or purple bucks. Worthless paper--just change the color, and whack off a zero."
"Tell me about it! You know what my IRAs are worth today?"
Garabanda muttered, "Yeah. BOHICA. Bend over, here it comes again."
"So what keeps you going Alex, why are you still working for the feds? I know why I'm here, why I'm doing this. My reporting days are finished, so if I'm anything any more, I'm an historian now. Deleon's confidant and biographer by day...and secret historian by night. At this stage in my life, it's enough for me to be where history is being made, and write it down. And maybe--just maybe--do what I can to keep New Mexico in the United States. But why do you keep at it? You're not even from here, so what do you care?"
"Shit, now you're getting all existential on me? Here in the Toy Hut?" Garabanda laughed quietly for a moment and gestured toward his son, playing on the floor. "Well, I've got Brian there, that's one reason to keep going. And besides the paycheck, as long as I stay in, I can get into the federal stores and shop on the Air Force base. And getting free gas for the bureau cars, that's another nice bennie. I can't imagine how you civilians manage it, without getting into the federal stores and the military bases."
"But is that enough?" replied Carvahal. "Enough to keep you working for the whores in Washington? Alex, that's like being a stoker on the Titanic, and staying in the engine room shoveling coal while the ship goes down. For what?"
Garabanda pulled a shiny black "Magic 8-Ball" from the shelf in front of him, and was slowly turning it over. "It's what I do, Luis. It's all I've ever known. Protect the country; try to warn headquarters...it's all I can do. Finish the career, hope for a pension, and raise Brian as best I can when I've got custody. It's all I've got left. Like your memoirs and your history of New Mexico."
"Speaking of which," said Carvahal, "There's something else: Deleon is seriously paranoid about the Vice-Governor. He's as much as told me he thinks Magon is planning something, maybe some kind of a move against him. Finding out about the Vedado Ranch conference back-channel from Senator Kelly--that really did it. Now Deleon knows for sure that Magon is operating behind his back. He thinks Wayne Parker set up the Vedado Ranch conference with Magon, making a private deal. Probably protecting Parker's million acres from the Land Reform Act."
"And Felix Magon is a total whack job," added Garabanda. "He's another Castro wannabee, if you ask me. He's worse than Hugo Chavez."
"You've got that right. You should see his 'Falcon Battalion.' They make the regular Milicianos look like Girl Scouts. Half of them are right out of the MS-13 and the Mexican Mafia--the worst scum from El Salvador to LA. They're not just another unit of the Milicia, they're Magon's enforcers. They'll do anything he says, anything at all. Deleon has no control over them at all. The Falcons only answer to Magon, and I don't think there's an American in the whole bunch. And Washington doesn't want to hear about it?"
The FBI agent stared intently at his informant, absorbing these latest rumors about the neo-communist Felix Magon. He was allegedly born in New Mexico and was therefore a U.S. citizen, but he had spent most of his adult life in Cuba, Bolivia and Colombia, before returning to America and entering politics. He replied, "Exactly right--Washington doesn't want to hear about it. DC is still in the PC lockdown mode. 'See no evil, hear no evil.' If Montana and Wyoming can pass 'English only' laws and start kicking out the illegals, then Nuevo Mexico can pass 'Espanol Solamente' and fire all the gringo cops. Washington doesn't see any difference at all. They don't see 'land reform' as confiscating private property--they prefer to think of it as 'helping the little guy.' Like they say: 'no justice, no peace,' right? Meanwhile, they've got a bunch of hard core neo-Marxists and narco-gangsters taking over an America state, right under their noses."
Carvahal added, "An American state, but for how long? Listen Alex, I'm going with Deleon up to Tierra Andalucia Monday. He's going to inspect the Milicia training camps with Magon. He has to show himself, make sure the Milicianos all know he's really in charge, and not just the party figurehead. I'll take some pictures, and try to get you something you can send back to headquarters. Something that might wake them up."
"What the hell Luis, give it a shot. Watch your back though--if Magon's gunning for Deleon, he'll take out anybody near him."
"I'll be careful. I'll be back sometime Tuesday. Let's meet again, maybe midweek, okay? But not in another store. How about the old Mount Calvary cemetery?"
"We've used it before," replied Garabanda, dubious.
"So what? It's huge, and I won't have to pedal five miles to get there. I've got enough gas left to drive there, from home. Say, Alex, about the gas?"
"Don't worry about it. I'll bring the hose; I'll fill you up. Bring some extra Jerry cans in the trunk, and I'll fill them up too."
"Thanks, I appreciate it," said Carvahal. "The blue bucks...they don't go far. Thank God I own my family home free and clear. But trying to find gasoline on the open market, it's tough. Nobody wants to sell gas for blue bucks, not with the price freeze, and the money going down by the hour. All the gasoline is winding up on the black market, and I can barely afford it. At least you feds can get gas, on the federal bases."
"Thank God for that. I know it's tough...I can't even imagine trying to live on the civilian economy. So I'll bring you some gasoline, that's the best I can do for you, my friend."
"No my friend, the best you do for me is listen to my stories. You take the time to listen to an old reporter." Carvahal paused, looking briefly at Garabanda, and then turned back to the toy shelf. "You know, I used to admire a lot about Agustin Deleon. I still do, in some ways. I used to be such a star-struck lefty, in my younger days...such a naive idealist. Oh, what a fool I was!" Carvahal smiled weakly, and shrugged. "You know, the Mountain Lion and I, we go way, way back together. All the way to Tierra Andalucia, and the courthouse raid. He's actually mellowed in many ways. At least he's not completely crazy. But the people around him today, oh my God--it's like being trapped in a Marxist insane asylum, up in Santa Fe. They think it's Barcelona in 1935, or Havana in '58. You wouldn't believe it, the lunacy of them. They're trapped in a time warp."
"They are?" asked Garabanda. "Or we are? Maybe we are."
"Us? Trapped in a time warp? My God, maybe we are. Maybe we all are. But who's going to stop this merry-go-round? And how the hell do we get off? Where does all this insanity end?"
"That, my friend, I haven't figured out. Not yet." Supervisory Special Agent Garabanda turned over the Magic 8-Ball. "Where does this insanity end?" he mused to himself.
He read the secret message that floated up into view.
It said: "Better Not Tell You Now."