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Operation Handlebar Moustache

Sal Paradise

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Juan Carlos de Santiago stepped out onto the patio of Los Cactus, a Mexican restaurant and bar in Sipatau, carrying aloft a beer and a margarita on a serving tray. Juan Carlos owned the restaurant, although he was not Mexican. He was born in Galicia, Spain, but lived in Mexico for much of his life. Or rather, the geographical area called Mexico, he couldn't remember who ran the region now. He didn't know a thing about Spanish food, but he knew Mexican. And no one in Sipatau cared for Spanish anyway. To them Spanish meant Mexican. If they found he wasn't Mexican, his restaurant would lose its reputation for authenticity he was careful in cultivating.

As he approached the table that ordered the beer and the margarita, he was annoyed to see one of the customers had lit a cigar. Smoking was not allowed in the restaurant, even on the patio. Canuckistan laws were sparse. In fact, save your basic laws against theft, murder, assault etc., off the top of his head Juan Carlos couldn't think of any other laws. But where he was from, workers' rights were protected and smoking was prohibited in bars and restaurants. Seeing as the libertarian nature of the Canuckistan government let him make whatever rules he wanted for his business, he decided to ban smoking. It remarkably didn't hurt business and instead made his restaurant more appealing to young, health conscious professionals, who, due to their sterile racially homogeneous suburban upbringings, sought the fake authentic experience Los Cactus provided. So long, of course, as they were unaware that the warts had been removed. And with that cigar smelling up his patio, it wouldn't be long before "it's a little too spicy" turned into "excuse me sir!" and he had groups of indignant yuppies, personally and morally offended, blackmailing him with threats of "never eating here again" and "I'm telling all my friends." He would have to, politely but firmly, demand the man put out his cigar.

"Here is your beer, señor," he said placing the beer in front of the man at the table. The "señor" was another piece of authenticity Juan Carlos liked to add to the experience, "and your margarita, señora." The man turned and looked at Juan Carlos and said, with deep Galician accent, smokey and reassuring, "gracias." The voice rolled over Juan Carlos in waves of smokey euphoria, numbing his senses into a childish giddiness. Juan Carlos, eyes glazing over, smiled, inexplicably bowed and made his way back inside the restaurant, forgetting entirely about the cigar. The blissful smile stayed on his face permanently for most of the afternoon, and strangely, no customer ever complained about the smoke.

Indeed, most customers, when they turned to see what [i]hate criminal[/i] was [i]murdering[/i] them cigar smoke, fell into the same schoolish infatuation. Those few who, rather than gape at him in awe, mustered the courage to speak to the man, asked him what kind of cigar he was smoking. "Aphrodita Fuente," he said in a Cuban accent and with that same intoxicating voice that kept the questioners entranced for hours afterward. No one there smoked, but after their encounter with this mesmerizing man, they immediately scattered to the city's cigar shops in search of Aphrodita Fuentes, but none were found. The brand was specially made for the man, whose name was Alejandro de Fisterra, by the Fuente family of Cuba. Or more specifically, the 26 year old daughter of the Arturo Fuente, who, after one unforgettable autumn afternoon in Havana two years ago, had been secretly making and sending them to Fisterra ever since. Fisterra, ever the gentlemen, visited her as often as his work allowed, which wasn't much.

But today, if the lovesick Aphrodita were not in Cuba but walking down Vancouver Boulevard passing the patio of Los Cactus, she might explode in a hot-blooded Latin rage at the sight of her Alejandro sitting across from a woman far more beautiful than she, as he sipped cooly from a glass of beer and smoked [i]her[/i] cigars. If she could be reasoned with, she would have nothing to worry about, because the woman sitting across from Fisterra was probably the one woman on the planet most impervious to his seductive charisma. That is to say, entirely impervious, and rightly so.

Aom Fisterra Lertcheewakarn was only four years younger than Aphrodita, and had she known her father had a 26 year old lover pining away in Cuba, the possibility of scandal on that Sipatau thoroughfare could still be salvaged. So could it be if the other half dozen women Fisterra had on reserve appeared at Los Cactus.

Aom herself was the product of one of her father’s many affairs and the only life he had ever created in a long career of doing quite the opposite. Alejandro de Fisterra was a spy for the Canuckistan Security and Intelligence Directorate, and before that state was born, a spy for many other governments. In his 30 year career he found it necessary to bed as many random women from exotic locales as he could without compromising his mission. That, he believed, was part of his job description, though he was never paid for it. Aom’s mother was one such woman, though she was a spy herself and didn't share Alejandro's philosophy on the perks of international espionage. She was of Thai descent, and spent her life in the employ of various world governments though never the same one at the same time as Alejandro de Fisterra, and she didn't live to see the foundation of Canuckistan.

Neither of Aom’s parents cared much for each other, and her mother kept Aom’s existence away from Fisterra until her death. She was killed in action four months before Aom’s third birthday, and when examined her personal documents revealed the identity of Aom’s father, and Alejandro de Fisterra suddenly found himself juggling his career as a secret agent with the responsibilities of fatherhood and the irresponsibilities of international philandering.

Aom took up the family trade from an early age. The daughter of two spies, Aom had the natural personality of a spy: insatiably inquisitive, secretive, deceptive, manipulative, risk-taking. She had her father’s charisma, but none of his concupiscence. She avoided the glamour her father indulged in and, like her mother, preferred lurking in the dark shadows of the spy world. The adventure had drawn Alejandro into the business, but Aom was there for the power, the competition, the control it gave her over others and the fates of nations. Alejandro was destined to be a spy. His personality, no matter what twists history had taken, would have landed him, as it did, accidentally in the profession. Aom, however, could have easily found herself in business or politics. But in those fields, power was public and therefore vulnerable. Aom enjoyed the anonymous power of espionage, a power she considered far greater. She took satisfaction in being in a room of such political and business types and knowing that she could pull their seats of power from under them with a simple phone call. Her father’s job was infiltration and sabotage; hers was to search the closets of the powerful for skeletons, and leave some behind if she found none.

But in the spy world she was still her father’s daughter. And the convenience of having a father and daughter on the payroll was used to SID’s advantage. She was, along with her other duties, her father’s handler. When spies met, they always had to do so with a certain level a secrecy. But a meeting between a father and a daughter would draw less suspicion. Alejandro’s identity as a SID agent was not entirely unknown. The better foreign intelligence agencies knew to look out for him; he may have very well worked for them in the past. But Aom was only known as his daughter. Anyone keeping an eye on Alejandro, would take little notice of an afternoon lunch with his 22 year old daughter. Though any casual observer would hardly guess they were related; they looked very little alike.

“Mmm, not bad,” Aom said after sipping her margarita, “let me pay this time.”

Sometimes their meetings were legitimate father-daughter outings, but “let me pay this time” was a code developed between the two of them. Alejandro, being from the old school, wouldn’t dream of letting a woman pay for his meals, and certainly not his daughter. What Aom meant when she offered to pay was that this meeting was official business and would thus be on the government’s tab. This was all she needed to say. Her father knew that at some point in the afternoon, if it hadn’t happened already, Aom would find a way to pass him the information he needed. She would do it without him noticing, something no else could pull off. He’d return home that evening to find a data file in his coat pocket, a business card for a contact or more secretive meeting place, or any such subtle hint he had to piece together. So long as it was out of place, he'd know where it came from. Much of this wasn't necessary. But Aom liked to tease her father with puzzles and often, much to his frustration, they could be impossible to solve.

Later when Alejandro returned to his car, he found a receipt from a butcher shop and a business card from a window installation company on the floor. How Aom got into his car, he didn't bother to investigate. The receipt from the butcher's indicated that two steaks had been purchased, both from Alberta. The business card left no other clues. The next morning he visited the window installation company at the time the butcher's receipt had indicated that the steaks had been bought, and after trying to drop a few hints and coded phrases, asking about Alberta beef and thoroughly confusing the man working there, he realized he must have misinterpreted the clue.

He only appreciated Aom's games when he could figure them out. He was, despite his unorthodoxies, a professional. He was committed to getting the job done. And when he couldn't even figure out what the job was, he would lose his signature cool. Nobody else but Aom could do this to him. She did it partly for fun and partly due to the impulsive need to control. Even her father, who for all her life she respected, she could bring down. She just needed to know she could.

What does a window installer do? Alejandro de Fisterra thought to himself. Install windows, obviously. Why? Because someone broke a window... How? Throwing something through it... throwing something through it... do they want me to assassinate someone in Alberta by throwing them out a window? He thought. Surely she would have given me a better hint than that. I'd need a name before I went about defenestrating people in Alberta at random. Defenestrate... defense... Alberta's defenses? Aha! Simple reconnaissance! Huh... disappointing.

Edited by Sal Paradise
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