Friday, December 18, 2015

Stuck in Quito

The man pretending to be you sits in front of a flat-screen computer monitor, in a small room in an office building you’d barely notice. A wireless telephone headset curves about his unshaven face.

Another man stands by, arrayed in guns and a curved knife. He wears a headset, too.

Their target’s face laughs on the computer screen. Her name is Aria Puffin. Grandmother. Widow. Sloppy with privacy on social media. Silver hair, pulled back in a long ponytail more often than not.

Your grandmother.

The computer dials.


The man pretending to be you speaks into his headset.

“Grandma? Hi, it’s Nathan.”

“Nathan! It’s been so long! How are you?”

“Not good, Grandma.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m stuck in Quito.”



“What on earth are you doing in Ecuador?”

“Business, for two days, but it’s been five now. A guy in the hotel bar offered to show me around on my free afternoon. We got stopped outside town by the police and, Grandma, the guy’s trunk was full of guns.”

“Guns?! What are you mixed up in?!”

“Grandma, I didn’t do anything. I don’t have much time, they’re gonna take me back to my cell soon. I need your help. I need to post bail. Please, don’t tell Dad, I–”

The man with the guns and knife takes over.

“Ms. Puffin?”

“Who is this?”

“I’m a deputy where your grandson is in custody. He got into some trouble, but you can help him get out.”

The first man takes off his headset. He doesn’t care to hear the rest. He’s no longer pretending to be you.

He leaves the room and walks down a long hallway. All the doors on either side are locked except one near the end, where he’s headed. He’s never seen the people in the other rooms–there are no windows–but he hears male and female voices sometimes.

His room holds a bed, a Bible, a few changes of clothing in a suitcase with an airline tag still attached, and now him.

He sits down on the bed, opens the Bible, pulls a green pen from his pocket, and makes a two hundred twenty-first mark on the title page.

It helps to think of his targets as little green marks, instead of old men and women whose grandsons don’t call enough, their voices easily hijacked.

Little green marks.

It’s a numbers game. Eventually his debt will be paid.

He closes his eyes. He tries to shed you and your grandmother from mind and remember how he got stuck here, before the little green marks lashed themselves together, one to one to one, a lattice of surrogate memories. Clicks of glass on the hotel bar. Policía at the open trunk.

There are no mirrors in this place.

He fumbles for truths he can tell, and prays for the day when his own grandmother will appear on the screen, pixels shining through the lattice, one last target to set him free.