Memories of Manny and Moving Forward

So I found out today that I again did not win the weekly short fiction contest.  So here is my latest short fiction piece.  It is based on the prompt, “You are spring cleaning and find something you had forgotten about completely.”  Warning, there is some somewhat adult content at the end.  Read at your own peril. 🙂

Memories of Manny and Moving Forward

I looked down and saw Marisol’s name on my caller I.D.  It had been forever since I had heard from Marisol and I let the call go to voicemail  She was the twin sister of my best friend Manny. Well, former best friend. The Army’s official statement was that “SPC Manuel Sanchez died from injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated underneath his transport vehicle while on a routine patrol.”  

That was seven years ago.  I had tried to stay close with his family.  Marisol and I had been almost as close as Manny and I at one point.  To be honest, we probably would have dated in high school if he hadn’t been my best friend.  There’s an unwritten rule there though. You just don’t date your best friends sister, especially his twin sister.  It would have been like dating him in a way.

However close we had been though, we slowly drifted apart into Facebook acquaintances over the years.  I had moved to Chicago for a my job and just kind of lost touch with them all. Marisol had moved away to Charleston to pursue her painting career.  It made me sad to think about it so I just tried not to.

Whenever I came home I would stop by and see Manny’s family. We would go to mass together then stop by his grave and pray.  My family was decidedly Irish and very Catholic. His abuelo and abuela had come to the United States from Mexico sometime in the 1950s and his family was equally Catholic.  Manny and I, though different types of Catholic, had found some connection in our faith.

We initially met playing soccer, another staple of both Irish and Mexican culture.  We played for the same travel team starting in 5th grade. He had played left mid and I played right mid.  We had hit it off instantly and quickly become best friends. Soccer is what started our friendship and we played together all through high school, but we were friends for so much more than that.  That’s why Marisol was calling.

“Hey Patrick.  It’s Marisol. My abuelo and abuela are moving into an assisted living facility next week.  We were going through some of the closets in the house and found something. If you can make it home this weekend it would be great to see you.  Really. It would be great. Call me.”

I don’t know why I hadn’t picked up.  Like I said, she and I had been almost as close as Manny and I.  Maybe I felt guilty for not trying harder to stay in touch since Manny had died.  Or maybe because there had always been some kind of attraction there that we’d always just ignored like it wasn’t.  I waited until I was on the road calling home from work and called her back.

They had found this box of trinkets that Manny and I had collected over the years.  Each piece in it was a memory of him. Marisol and I sat on the couch in the family’s living room.  She pulled out a detention slip signed by Mrs. Buckloh. “Oh I remember this!” She exclaimed. “This is from that fight with you and Sean!”

The “fight” hadn’t really been much of a fight.  In eighth grade, Manny had gotten an A on his test in Spanish class.  This other kid named Sean had failed the test and had knocked Manny’s books out of his hands and called him a racial slur.  I had basically turned and cold cocked him right in the mouth. The teacher, Mrs. Buckloh, although not disagreeing with my motives, had still rightfully given me a detention and Manny had stayed after with me.  Most of the time that wouldn’t have been allowed but she thought the circumstances warranted an exception this time.

“I didn’t know he kept that.” I said.  “My fist hurt for a week. They make it look so easy and painless in the movies.”

“Have you ever been in a fight aside from that?” she asked.

I laughed out loud at the thought. “Gosh no.” I said. “Not even close.  I still can’t believe I did that. He was just such a douche and I lost it.”

“You were our family’s hero.” She said.  “If my parents find this slip they’re going to frame it for sure.”

She reached into the box and pulled out a plastic scepter that was painted to look golden. I was encrusted with fake jewels and topped with a miniature crown.

“Ah.  The cherished and highly sought after Mr. Granville Award.”  I said. “The most prestigious of all senior class awards.”

“The inaugural Mr. Granville Award.” She corrected.

“Manny always said that no matter who else won it in later years, no one else would ever be able to win the inaugural one.” I replied laughing.  “He kept that just to taunt me.”

“Well, Mrs. C did say that it was the closest race in history.” Her tone was a teasing one full of fake sympathy.

“You mock my pain.” I said, quoting The Princess Bride, one of our favorite movies.

She countered with the correct, “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.” We both laughed and continued our foray into the box.

“Now this…” She held up two tickets to our Senior Prom.  “Best night of my life.”

I blushed.  It had been the only high school dance I’d ever gone to.  Manny, ever the suave sweet talker that he was, had convinced me to go with him and his date and had further convinced me to take Marisol.  

“Come on man.”  He’d said. “You’ve never been to a dance before and I’d way rather have you take her than some of these other jerks around here.”

I had relented and gone.  To call me awkward with girls in high school would be a compliment to what I actually was and that translated to the dance floor.  The first time a slow song came on, I had made the bathroom excuse. The second time I had gone for water. The third time, Marisol had just shook her head with an emphatic no and pulled me in.  We had kissed and that had been the end of it. I’m not sure to this day if Manny had seen but if he had, he hadn’t said anything. To be honest I don’t think he would have cared. I just thought it would have made things weird.  Marisol and I had never talked about it in true high school fashion but we both knew there had been something there.

“That was a great night.”  I said and looked back down at my feet.

“Oh come on.” She laughed.  “We kissed, it was great, and that’s all.  You don’t have to be awkward about it.”
“Oh it was great huh?”  Now she looked a little bit sheepish and dug quickly into the box again.

“Here we go.” She said, holding up a photo.  In the photo was a picture of me and Manny standing in front of a cast iron gate.

“You really saved our asses that night.” I said laughing.

“Oh I know it.” She responded.

Manny had gotten this idea in his head that it would be a good idea to cannonball into our principal’s swimming pool at 1:00 in the morning.  We had both failed our driver’s certification test the first time we took it and had walked nearly two miles to her house. We had brashly scaled the fence and jumped in without really thinking about any kind of an exit strategy.  We had also just naturally assumed for some reason that high school principals were all the kind of people who were in bed by 10:00, even on a Saturday night. Both were huge oversights on our part.

As soon as we hit the water, the kitchen lights came on.  We found scaling the fence to be exponentially more difficult when dripping wet and shivering.  We had barely made it to the street with our backpacks before the gate came flying open behind us and our principal’s husband came charging out with a baseball bat.  By some miracle, (that turned out to be Manny telling her our plan beforehand) Marisol had pulled up just in time for us to dive into the back seat of her 1999 Toyota Camry and escape the wrath that the Louisville Slugger promised.  Why Manny had taken a picture beforehand I’ll never know.

“You were so cute all cold and shivering in my back seat.” She said as she reached into the box.

“What’s this?” Marisol asked as she held up the empty wrapper of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

“That?…Well that’s…”  I had no words. “That’s a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.”

“No kidding.”  She replied dryly.  “But what is it? As in why is it in here.”

Oh boy.  This was going to be truly embarrassing.

“Well…that was from Lent our sophomore year.” I answered.

“What? you guys gave up Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?”  She enquired. “What’s the big deal there?”

“Not exactly” I replied.

“Continue.”

I paused.  Then just blurted it out.  “We actually gave up masturbating.”  I halfway yelled.

The silence was deafening and she let me wallow in it before bursting out in uproarious laughter.  It was a solid minute before she could get out words.

“So why a Reese’s wrapper?”  She had me. I had to tell her the whole thing and she knew it.  So I just spilled it all.

“Well.  So I don’t know why, but that’s just what we chose to give up.  The problem is that people ask you what you gave up each year. Your mom asked us.  We couldn’t tell her what we really gave up so we both lied. Manny yelled out “Chocolate.” and I said “Peanut Butter.”  So we kind of looked at each other and Manny said “Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. It was the worst.”

“Why was it the worst?” She asked. “I mean she never knew right.”

“Well no.” I said. “But since we told her we gave up Reese’s we couldn’t eat those either.  So we actually ended up giving up two things that year. Masturbating and Reese’s.”

She burst out laughing again and leaned a little closer to me with a twinkle in her eye. “So what did you give up this year?”

I was stuck again because this year I actually had given up chocolate.

“Chocolate.” I said with my most sincere face.

“Oh yeah?” She said with a grin and a wink that made me glad it was really what I had given up this year. “Cross your heart and hope to die.”

“As you wish.” I said, again quoting our favorite movie.  I winked back, scooted closer, and said, “Now let’s see what other memories we can find.”

The One That Got Away

So here is the latest short fiction piece I wrote for the weekly contest I enter.  The prompt was titled “Get Schooled.”  The story simply had to be set at one of the schools they listed. The options were things like Clown College, College of Renewable Energy, and College of Funeral Services.  I chose funeral services.  I found out yesterday that my story didn’t win so I can now post it here.  Enjoy.  I always love constructive criticism.  Feel free to leave in the comments section.

 

The One That Got Away

Just stick to the rules.  That’s what I told myself when I first got into this business.  Set rules to mitigate the obvious risks and then stick to them. That’s how you survive and don’t get caught.  Rule One: Don’t know too much. With what I did, the less I know, the better. Knowing too much is what gets people caught or killed.  

As a professor of mortuary affairs at the College of Funeral Services, I was in the unique position of having a legitimate means of disposing of human remains.  I taught the Embalming I class and clinical lab to accompany it. Included in this course was cremation services. The school had an older but still effective crematorium that we used as a teaching tool.  We worked with some of the local funeral homes to get deceased bodies to show the students how the process worked. It was my unique position of having these means of disposal that attracted the Russian mob to me in the first place.

Well, to be honest, it was my dumb cousin Ronnie that really attracted them to me.  If he hadn’t come up with the brilliant idea of using me to dispose of the bodies, they would still be burying them or dumping them in lakes or whatever they did before me.  Either way, it was what it was and I now knew more Ivans, Anatolys, Vladimirs, and Pavels then I knew what to do with.

Rule Two: No live ones.  I had made that one absolutely clear at the very beginning.  I was not a killer. I was not an interrogator. I was a disposer, nothing more.  My crematorium was not a threat and not a weapon, it was tool. My job within their organization was very clear and defined and I wanted nothing to do with anything outside of it.  

Ronnie?  Ronnie was just a delivery boy.  But he was a delivery boy that violated Rule One.  His job should have been just as clearly defined as mine.  Pick up a package at Point A and take it to Point B. Leave said package at Point B while retrieving an already agreed upon payment for said package.

However, as I may have mentioned, Ronnie is an idiot.  He was forever trying to meddle in the affairs of the Russians and learn everything there was to know.  As if he had a chance to move up the hierarchy. We shared the last name of Müller which made us about as Russian as sauerkraut.  Odd that after seventeen years of running deliveries for the Russian Mob, Ronald Müller hadn’t climbed the ladder to become a boss.  I had tried to talk to him several times about it and he was somehow still convinced that there was a future in it for him.

I, on the other hand, kept doing what I was doing for the simple fact that I knew the future for me if I ever decided not to.  My motivation was not so much hoping for a positive consequence as it was avoiding a decidedly negative one.

“So why did you get into funeral services?”

The voices of the first year students in my lab shook me back into reality.  We were in the Embalming I Clinical lab and the students chatted aimlessly as they went about their work.  

“Well, I figured it was a solid career choice.  I mean it’s a business everyone is dying to get into.”

I cringed.  There were bad jokes and then there were bad jokes about funeral services.  A whole different level.

“Yeah. I don’t think that the profession is going under anytime soon.”

It just kept getting worse.  I looked at the clock. Fifteen minutes to go.  My cell phone buzzing on my desk next to me was a welcome distraction.  It was a text from Ronnie. “One coming in tonight. Crazy story. Tell you all about it when I get there.”  I replied with a simple. “Rule One. I’ll see you when you get here.”

Ronnie knew my rules but sometimes was so excited about the backstory that he felt he had to tell me.  Most of the time, I put headphones in and worked while he prattled on, not caring that I wasn’t hearing a single word he said.

My phone buzzed again. “No, this is different. You’ll want to hear this.”  His next text included a link to a news article. I went against my better judgement and opened the article. The opening headline read, “Daughter of Russian Diplomat Goes Missing.”  I didn’t read the rest of the article. Better not to know.

Class ended and the students filed quickly out.  They had much better things to do on a Friday than hang about an embalming lab.  It was 6:30 and Ronnie wouldn’t be at the school until after 9. We used a maintenance road and back entrance to get the bodies into the crematorium.  When the buildings on campus had undergone a maintenance and security upgrade back at the turn of the millenium, the cameras that had been planned for the back of the building and entrance had been cut due to budget constraints.  It was convenient but we still had to wait until dark. I decided to head to the Panera right down the road to get dinner while I waited for Ronnie.

As I sat down to my bread bowl with black bean soup, I looked at my phone and, against my better judgement again, reopened the link to the news article.  Irina Stepanov, the 27 year old daughter of Marat Stepanov had been in the States visiting her father when she had gone missing yesterday evening. The news article included a photograph and, I had to say, she was not a woman who was difficult to look at.  She had wavy dark hair and strikingly dark eyes to match. Her features were defined without going so far as being sharp or pointed. In the photo she had a slight smile that hinted of humor and her eyes belied intelligence.

Without thinking, I Googled her name and clicked on her wikipedia bio.  My intuition about her eyes had been correct. She had begun attending St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University at 14 years old.  She had received her undergraduate degree in applied mathematics and then completed a double master’s degree program in informatics and computer science by the time she had turned 20.  Very impressive.

The events and circumstances surrounding her disappearance were both mysterious and questionable according to the newspaper.  She had been seen stumbling toward the bathroom in a restaurant but hadn’t been seen since then. According to Ronnie, I’m sure the events and circumstances were much less mysterious and questionable.  

I looked down at my phone and saw that I had spent nearly an hour and a half reading.  I cleared my tray and headed to my car to go back to the school.

I found Ronnie already waiting for me at the back entrance to the building, a stupid grin spreading across his face.  “This is my shot man. I’m telling you. This is my shot and I killed it. This is big for me. This is my shot.” He had this annoying way of repeating himself when he was excited, which he clearly was.  I just wanted to get out of there and settled onto my couch with a glass of Moscato to binge watch The Office for the third time. I heard him talk without really listening. However, as much as I didn’t want to, I caught parts of how he had been the perfect candidate for the job because he was American and used to be a waiter.  Apparently he had dropped something in her drink. She had gone to the bathroom and the rest was history.

“I’m telling you man, this is”

“Your shot Ronnie.  I know. I heard.”

Really I just wanted him to leave.

“You know, why don’t you just head home.  I’ll finish up here. Go celebrate buddy.”

I didn’t need to repeat myself there.  He was gone quicker than a shot of cheap vodka leaving me with the body of Irina Stepanov; billionaire genius.  

I stepped toward the body to begin the process of moving into the crematorium when I thought for a second I thought I saw the chest move ever so slightly.  My heart stopped. I paused and watched intently. Nothing. Then again, almost undetectably, the chest rose and fell in the faintest hint of a breath.

“Shit.”  Ronnie had now violated rules number one and two in the same day.  I had no idea how to proceed. In over ten years of disposing of bodies for the mob, this had never happened before.  

In a split second I made my decision.  There was no way I could do it. I was simply a disposer, not a killer.  It took me about five minutes to head to the parking lot, pull my car around through the maintenance road to the back entrance, and get back into the lab outside the crematorium.  

By the time I got back inside, Irina’s chest was rising and falling faintly but steadily with an undeniable rhythm that showed she was in fact alive.  Ronnie was even stupider than I thought. Whatever he had used to drug and then kill her was obviously not as effective as he thought or had been administered in a faulty manner.  My instinct told me it was the latter.

I was now faced with the difficulty of how to get her back to my house.  Now that I knew she was alive, I didn’t feel right putting her in the trunk.  I was about to go Weekend at Bernie’s with her either though. However, if I laid her down in the backseat and for some reason was stopped by the police, it would be a hard thing to explain.  However, I decided that was my best option and placed her gently on her side in the fetal position.

The drive was mercifully uneventful.  She stirred slightly once or twice but didn’t wake.  My house has an attached garage so transporting Irina from the car to the house was equally uneventful.  

The next two days were spent caring for her as she drifted in an out of consciousness.  It was not nearly as awkward as I might have thought it to be. There was no screaming and trying to escape as she’d lost most of her motor control.  She seemed to be in much of a dreamlike state. Each time she awoke I spoke calmly and plainly, letting her know who I was, where she was, and what had happened.  I found that as soon as she heard me speak in English, she only communicated that way and did so very well. She had no noticeable accent and was as well spoken as someone who had been drugged mostly to death could be.

By Sunday afternoon, she was fully conscious and beginning to regain control of her nervous system and major muscle groups.  She knew exactly who she was and could recall all of the events leading up to her abduction. This surprised me. I don’t know if I had been watching too many movies and was expecting temporary amnesia or something, but it did.  

I found talking to her easier than with any human I had ever encountered before in my life.  In the space of 5 hours I had told her everything about me. I had told her about how I hadn’t every really had a serious relationship.  I told her how I hated working for the mob. How when my baby teeth had started falling out we had found out that I had something called anodontia, a condition in which the permanent teeth never grow back.  When Monday came around, I was legitimately disappointed to leave my usual lonely domicile and head back to work. When I returned home and found Irina still there, I was ecstatic. Now we simply had to answer the question of what to do now.

“Well they can’t know that I’m alive.” she said. “Then they’ll have me to hold over Papa’s head again.”

“But can he know you’re alive?” I asked.  Her reply took a long time.

“No.” she said sadly. “He can’t. If anyone but you finds out that I didn’t die, we’re both as good as dead.”

“Right.” I said.  “So what do we do?”

“Well that depends.” she said. “Can you live the rest of your life and keep this a secret? Also, what if something somehow does happen and the mob finds out that I’m still alive?  You’d be dead before you realized what was happening.”

“So you’re saying I need to get out too?” I asked.

“Absolutely.” She answered.

“Impossible.  There’s only one way out, and it’s through my crematorium.”

“Well then that’s how we’ll do it.  A crematorium.”

The “crematorium” she had in mind was actually my car.  It was a fairly simple operation. Crash my car hard enough into a pole to make it believable that it would catch fire somehow and then light it on fire.  My anodontia further simplified the matter. The fire from the car would ruin any DNA so the only way to identify a body would be through dental records. After the fifth grade, I had no dental records to speak of.  Just a set of false teeth that would also be destroyed in the fire. As for who we would be after I died, having someone with a master’s degree in informatics and computer technology helped us obtain complete new identities.  I was to become Joshua Thompson and was pleasantly surprised to find that she had given herself the same last name, Nadia Thompson.

After that, it was simply a matter of waiting until Ronnie produced another body that was the same height and relative build that I was.  Luckily, the world is not in short supply of 5’10” males and he texted me two weeks later that he had another delivery.

As Irina and I stood there watching my car and my entire past life burn, she turned to me and asked if I thought I would miss it.

I was truly ashamed of my reply. “Well, teaching at the College of Funeral Services was a great way to urn a living, but I’m ready to move on.”

Her laugh was genuine as she retorted with, “Well then, I think that this will be a very fine undertaking for you then.”

Pure gold.

Minor Indiscretions

So I started writing for this weekly short fiction contest.  They email me five prompts on Friday and I have until midnight the following Friday to respond to one of them.  Well, long story short (pun intended), I missed the deadline this week so I am allowed to just post my story on my blog.  So, I guess my lack of responsibility is your gain.

The prompt I chose was to write a story based on a meme.  I chose a meme of Kevin Hart that says “That awkward moment when you’ve already said “What?” three times and still didn’t hear, so you just agree.”  I don’t know why I chose to write my story from the perspective of a 35 year old woman but I did.  You guys can psychoanalyze that all you want lol.  So here is my story. “Minor Indiscretions.”

 

 

“You know. They always say that if you couldn’t go to jail for it, it’s probably not worth doing.”

I looked up from my drink. “No, no one says that.” I replied.  “You’ve been saying that for fifteen years and I’ve never heard anyone say it but you.”

“Maybe so.  But just because I’m the only one who says it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”  Olivia flashed her winning smile, giggled, and took a sip of her drink.

Whether or not she was the only one who said it, it was the way that Olivia lived her life.  Ever since she waltzed into my world in the seventh grade, she’d lived life on the edge. Olivia had been a rock star from day one.  As the daughter of a Jamaican father and Irish mother, she had been the only black girl in our little suburban school in northeast Ohio.  When she had transferred into the school in the middle of seventh grade, everyone had been in awe. Not only did her skin tone set her apart, but her personality was positively radiant.  Olivia had the ability to talk to someone for five minutes and make them feel like they had been best friends since birth. She was talented in almost every sense of the word; artistically, musically, athletically.  She absolutely excelled in anything that she tried. Me? Well, I was kind of just there.

Which is why it absolutely blew my mind when she had come up to me on the last day of eighth grade and said, “Listen, I need to know right now are you in or out?  Sisters’ pact.” It had caught me off guard so much that I had replied “in” without having even the slightest notion of what I was committing to. We made a pinky promise, our “sisters’ pact” right then and there.  And that’s how I found myself on a flight to Montego Bay to spend two weeks in the mountains of Jamaica.

I still haven’t the slightest idea why she chose me to be her best friend.  Like I said, I’m just kind of there. I’m not extremely intelligent, not gifted in music or art, definitely not athletically talented, and not really even funny either.  My looks are pretty unremarkable. I’m just kind of your average white girl. I’m a brown hair, brown eyes, some freckles, 5’4” B cup average type deal. If I was a car, I’d be a Honda Civic, the sedan, not even the cute hatchback style.  No one sees a Civic on the road and really thinks it’s an amazing looking car or an ugly car. No one really sees it at all. It’s just kind of there and part of the scenery.

However, whatever reasons she had or didn’t have, we were best friends.  We did everything together. My high school and college years were filled with her calling or texting me, “Tell me now, are you in or out? Sisters’ pact.”  Our sisters’ pacts almost always ended up with me sitting at my kitchen table explaining to my parents “And that’s how I ended up falling into the river.” or “And that’s how I ended up getting caught stealing from Wal-Mart to feed homeless people.”  or something like that.

I had grown wiser over the years and started asking what “it” was first.  Sometimes Olivia told me and sometimes she didn’t. The times that she didn’t were always nerve wracking but rewarding at the same time. “That’s how I ended up backstage at a Backstreet Boys reunion show.”  “That’s how I ended up as an extra in the latest Avengers movie.”

As she spoke to me now though, I couldn’t really hear what she was saying.  I don’t know if it was the drinks, the noise in the bar, or that my mind was elsewhere.  I just couldn’t make out what she was saying. I’d already said “What?” three times and could tell she was getting annoyed.  So I ended up just nodding and taking the sisters’ pact to go through with whatever scheme she had cooked up. And that’s how I ended up on a plane bound for Zimbabwe.   

After graduating from medical school, Olivia had volunteered with Doctors Without Borders and spent a lot of time travelling the world.  As happens with everyone she meets, she made friends with people from Peru to Bangladesh, Vietnam to Somalia. As we boarded the plane, she was chattering on about how this might actually work since she knew a man in Zimbabwe who trains monkeys. She also knew that the leader of the Makunde village had a pet monkey that he carried on his shoulder.  At this point in our lives, I had stopped questioning whether or not she really knew the people she said she knew or how she knew things like the fact that the Makunde village leader carried a monkey everywhere. She just did.

I still hadn’t the slightest idea of what I had signed up to do or why it involved a trained monkey.  

“So all we have to do is switch out his monkey with our trained monkey and we could really pull this off.”  

When we sat down on the plane and she pulled out our estimated travel itinerary, I started to get nervous.

Our meeting with the monkey trainer was generally uneventful.  I could tell immediately that the man, like most men, was absolutely smitten with Olivia.  He glanced at me once when we walked in and then spent the rest of the time fawning over her.  It didn’t bother me. I was used to it. When you’re a Civic driving next to a Ferrari, you don’t expect a lot of attention.  She went into the corner with him and spoke to him in hushed tones about our sordid scheme. His eyes brightened as he seemed to have just the monkey for the job.  And that’s how I ended up on a bus in Zimbabwe with a vervet monkey perched on my lap.

As strange as it may sound, the monkey was really quite pleasant and cute.  It was about a six hour ride to get from Harare International Airport to Bikita, the nearest large city to the Makunde village.  However, Olivia spent the time solidifying the details of our plan. “I know it’s risky, but the payoff is totally worth it.” I totally disagreed but what could I do?  I had made the sisters’ pact.

We got to Bikita and walked from the bus depot to a friend’s house.  She lived only a five minute walk away and as we strolled through the streets, I was once again amazed by the ease with which Olivia both stood out and blended in to her surroundings.  She was obviously not a native Zimbabwean but anyone watching her walk carelessly through the street with such confidence would have thought that she had lived there most of her life. She was as natural in Bikita as a polar bear in the arctic.  

However, when we got to her friend’s house, no one was home.  “Dammit! She said that she would be back by now!” Olivia said as we sat in front of the house.  Night was falling and I was starting to get a little more than uncomfortable. We knocked a few more times then gave up.  I figured that we would try to somehow find a hotel somewhere but Olivia had different plans. “You know. They always say that if you couldn’t go to jail for it, it’s probably not worth doing.”  “Still not true.” I thought. However, that’s how I ended up breaking into a stranger’s home at 11:00 at night in Bikita, Zimbabwe.

Olivia’s friend returned the next morning.  She had stayed late at work and slept at her desk she said.  She came in, showered, and headed back to her place of employment while Olivia and I stayed to finalize our plan.  We needed to hike out to the village under the cover of night to switch the two monkeys. No witnesses to see us come and go and the monkey wasn’t going to say anything.  

We left around midnight to begin our trek to the village.  The going was pretty easy. We followed the road the whole way.  Although I wouldn’t have wanted to drive my Civic from home on it (yes I even drove a Civic), walking along it was not difficult.  The moon was out in a cloudless sky and as we walked, I had a strange calm about what we were about to do. Depending on how they prosecuted us, the penalty could be fairly steep.  The sounds of Zimbabwe were soothing and the lack of traffic along the road was refreshing.

We got to the village leader’s hut and I began looking around for some sort of cage.  “Where does he keep it do you think?” I whispered. “Don’t be silly,” Olivia whispered back. “He sleeps with it.”  And that’s how I ended up breaking into a village leader’s hut and abducting his pet monkey.

If that was the least of our indiscretions that week I would have been fine.  It would have been a nice adventure to play a harmless prank on someone. However, Olivia had something much more devious in mind.  As the sun rose, we had taken up a surveillance post in the wildlife reserve about three miles outside the village. We were close enough to view what was happening with some high resolution binoculars but far enough away that we were out of range of the secret service agents that arrived about six hours before the motorcade.

“What do you think we’re looking at if we get caught?” Olivia asked.  “Lock us up and throw away the key? Ten to fifteen years? Slap on the wrist?”

“When,”  I replied “It’s when we get caught.  There’s no way we get away with this. It all depends though… I honestly don’t know the total illegality of it.”

Our conversation stopped as soon as the motorcade pulled in.  It wasn’t actually any kind of real diplomatic mission. It was really just an overblown publicity stunt.  The president was meeting with the village chief to announce a new initiative of U.S. humanitarian aid. It hadn’t even been officially announced hence the lighter than usual security.  There was just enough press to get a few photos and minutes of footage to air on the evening news that night. Not enough to warrant a live press conference.

We watched as the president stepped out of the black SUV that had made the trek down the road to the Makunde village and approached the hut with the elder standing in front.  Our monkey sat perched on his shoulder. We waited with bated breath as the two men talked. When they reached in to shake hands and the monkey jumped from one shoulder to the next, our breath stopped completely.  

At this point, the secret service personnel were met with a moment of indecision.  They had to take in several factors and answer several questions. First, what real threat did a vervet monkey pose?  Second, if the decision was that it posed a legitimate threat, what is the correct course of action? Do you shoot a monkey just for jumping on the President’s shoulder?  After what seemed like the longest five seconds of my life, one of the security personnel moved in to remove the monkey from the president’s shoulder. The monkey made its move and latched its little fingers onto the presidential scalp.  

And that’s how I ended up running through the jungle in Zimbabwe with Donald Trump’s stolen hairpeace stuffed in my backpack.