Advertise | Newsletter | About/Subscribe | Submissions | Art Walk | Books | THE2NDHAND Writers Fund

**PRINT: A GAME I ONCE ENJOYED, by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, is THE2NDHAND’s 32nd broadsheet. Somerville's work previously appeared in No.24 in 2007, and this Somerville’s second broadsheet since the release of his short-story collection, Trouble, in 2006 marks the first since his novel The Cradle launched into the cultural imagination with coverage in the form of reviews in places as high as the New York Times Book Review. Don’t let that turn you off, though; Somerville’s work is viscerally humorous and elegantly dramatic as the best out there, as evidenced in this epic story, about a chess game whose stakes might well be higher than its players know. Also in this issue: a short from Ohio scribe Daniel Gallik.

**WEB: MR. C.I.A. Gretchen A. Van Lente
PICKY and BLACK MANTA Quincy Rhoads
WING & FLY: MILAM, WIRTHLIN w/ mobile fiction; also: EDGAR MOLLERE, ERIC DURCHHOLZ | Todd Dills
THE CLEANER Amanda Marbais

MR. C.I.A.
Gretchen A. Van Lente

Van Lente lives and writes in Arroyo Grande, California..

Maybe he was like some Manchurian Candidate. Otherwise, I have no explanation for the kindly old man, so small and docile, who followed me to my gate at the airport. The little man who volunteered right away that he had just retired from the CIA. Did that render him harmless, I wondered, or did that mean he'd once, in the late 20th century, had a part in orchestrating genocide?

Bohemian Pupil Press, Chicago publishers of the South Side Trilogy

It was not yet the time in our life -- but very close -- when even redneck farmers would begin to feel more betrayed than patriotic. Music coming out of Memphis had been bathetic for a long time, but soon those songs would express sadness about a government hard to love. The press would print what they had known for a long time, that people, mainly educators, were being routinely arrested for wearing t-shirts or buttons critical of the president during his college lectures. The witch-hunt was over; no one had lost his or her job recently for expressing an opinion about the war. Eventually people would speak of World War III as if, having been silent for so long, they had nothing left to lose.

The man on the airport shuttle had the nicest manners of anyone I had ever met, or dated, or found myself related to, if one discounted the old southern gentlemen of impeccable manners who could still be spotted in Florida. "Real Southern Gentlemen" we called them. You could recognize them in a minute. And he was that deft at making me feel comfortable. He engaged me in conversation from the moment we both arrived out of breath after chasing the airport shuttle.

We sat across from each other, smiling, and it must have been a holiday, for we had that kind of spirit, and we felt hopeful about making our flights. We congratulated each other on knowing one had to be at the airport before dawn the get a parking spot. We declared we had found the last two spaces. And then we departed for the same airline, even the same gate, so we continued to walk along and share our pleasant small talk through the airport, both of us with heavy carry-on luggage and nothing to check in.

Inside our waiting pen, I stared nervously over his shoulder at the window, searching impatiently for the plane that would take me to Guadalajara to meet my fiancé, mi promiso, I would say, once I got to where I was going. I was preparing my mind, making myself tough enough to walk into a foreign country with my rusty Spanish and start ordering taxi drivers to take me wherever, for Rosendo and I had made the flimsiest of plans. Meet my sister first, and later I will come. Meet us at the coffee shop in the Guadalajara airport. You'll recognize my sister. Or maybe she'll recognize you. How ridiculous, when after all, I would end up in Mexico City because planes never took off on schedule during the rainy season.

I wouldn't let it bother me for the moment when things were so nice. I felt grateful just to be chatting nonsense with this friendly stranger. It took my rage away, and rage had been building up, and would eventually end a relationship on the streets of Mexico City.

"I have seen so much of this beautiful world," he said, as if we were instant friends. We had not exchanged names. "I've been lucky that way. Working for the CIA, I'd have to say, was a gift, a chance for me to experience all the exquisite women of the world, if you'll pardon my honesty. But I'm most grateful for my grandchildren, all of them still quite small, which means they love their grandpa unconditionally. They don't know yet what a cantankerous old doddering fool I am. They haven't met King Lear yet." He laughed.

"Oh, I doubt they ever will," I said.

"Now that I'm retired, they're all that really matter to me."

That was when it finally clicked. Even Porter Goss, the CIA director who would later disgrace his office for being unbelievably lazy (and an obvious do-nothing puppet), had come out of retirement from Sanibel. My new friend peppered his speech with references to this exclusive island, an enclave for the rich. He had no air of entitlement. He was an average Joe, a man who could disappear in a crowd.

Up until that day I had been dismissing the rumors. It seemed implausible that the CIA would come in droves, over decades, to retire on one island. So in that moment, I knew it was true, however bizarre and nefarious it seemed -- however many unwanted questions it left me with.

But my man, I reassured myself, was harmless. One could see that in a minute. There was that radiant smile, the sparkling eyes as he talked about his grandchildren.

"My daughter thinks," I started in, making my own contribution to the precious nature of life, "that I work at a toll booth. The other day she asked me if I had the day off from the toll booth."

He inclined his head and smiled, eager for the story. "Whatever gave her that idea?"

It occurred to me that, had he not been such a short, gray, older man, almost a little squat, he might have been handsome, but instead he looked like a college professor who knew the world from books and lectures. That is to say, he was not too terribly unattractive. He was well groomed, and so bland that to this day, even after all that transpired, I cannot conjure up his face.

"I'm not sure what gave her that idea. I'm a university professor. I do use the toll booth twice a day to take her to daycare."

"Let me guess. You teach nursing."

"Not even close. Renaissance Literature."

"You a writer?"

I admitted with a shy gesture that I was.

"Oh, I could tell you some stories. But the reason I said nursing is that there is something antiseptic about you. I mean that as a compliment although I realize it doesn't sound like one."

"Not to a writer it doesn't," I replied, and we laughed.

"No," he said, "you have to understand. I have seen so much of the third world. It's always a pleasure to be here in the states, to see how civilized we are, even thought I love the cosmopolitan experience."

Now I began to feel nervous. My flight had just been delayed for the second time, and the fog over him, over everything in my life, over the way I resented Rosendo, had begun to lift. And suddenly, out of nowhere, I meant business.

"Now, in the civil wars," I said, "in Guatemala and El Salvador..."

"So how do you think she came up with this notion that you worked at a toll booth?" I saw him tap his feet, check his watch, glance over my head to the gate behind us. That was when I came up with the notion: his gate sat across the aisle from us; he was merely passing time, very politely keeping me company through my airport dilemma.

"Well, every time I stop at a tollbooth, which as I said is four times a day, I dig for coins at the bottom of my purse. Cars in back start honking. I chitchat with the operator as if neither one of us is in a hurry. I have my favorites. We know each other by first name, and we catch up on our private lives in the few minutes we have before I pull my change out of my purse. We share the nicest pleasantries. So I assume the only thing she knows about me and work is that I spend an inordinate amount of time at the tollbooth, and that I always say "later" when I pull out. She must think I go back to the tollbooth when I drop her off. "Are you going back to the toll booth?" she asks me. And I answer, "Yes, I have to. Mommy works in the other direction."

"That is a darling story," said the man, and I noticed that he, too, was antiseptic, not a hair out of place. His teeth gleamed. By third-world standards, I thought, he must look like a wealthy man. Like someone who could afford to live on a rich island.

"So, your grandchildren. Do they know, or are they even old enough to know..."

"Oh, they think I work for the President."

"Of the United States? That must be exciting for them."

"No. Of the school board. I'm at every meeting."

We laughed at that.

"Children are the same everywhere, aren't they." He stated it as a fact, and I began to trust him again. People who love children and dogs. You know what they say. Still, even with all the warmth he radiated, and the kindness he demonstrated toward a woman flying alone, lost in airport time, I thought to myself, here is my chance.

"So, during the 80s, maybe the 70s, were you in Guatemala or El Salvador? Were you in Central America anywhere?"

"That's three questions!" He laughed.

I glanced up at the marquee and saw that my flight had been delayed again. He commiserated with me.

"You'll get to Guadalajara eventually, probably in the middle of the night, or possibly the next day. But you'll go through customs in Mexico City. Breath deep. It's just an inconvenience."

I breathed. I felt calm. The wait became an adventure. Maybe, I thought, I would make my own fun. Maybe I wouldn't bother to meet Rosendo or his sister. In this manner I began to take control of this ridiculous excursion.

We ran, momentarily, out of things to say.

I caught the man looking nervously over my head at his gate. A magnificent change came over his face. Whereas before he was serene, now something agitated him. He grinned tightly, glancing back and forth between his gate and his watch.

"So then. You're going to Mexico to meet with friends. Not as a tourist, really. Or for one of those sister city events."

"There's a little matter of inheritance. My fiancé's uncle stole his cows. No. It's not community related at all. I'm giving moral support. To my boyfriend. My fiancé, actually, so called."

"Not a sister city thing."

"No, not this time. I have done sister city events before, though. I taught classes in Guatemala. On hygiene, not that I'm a qualified nurse. But I worked with one. As a translator."

He glanced more rapidly between his watch and his gate. We had shared so much in a droll airport lounge: the love of children, of innocence. But isn't curiosity stronger than anything? Isn't it the one thing that always gets us in trouble? I could say the same was true for him.

"So did you tell me you had been to Central America in the 70s and 80s? The reason I ask is, it was a tumultuous era, as I'm sure you're aware. I was there, roughly after the end of the civil wars in both El Salvador and Guatemala. We taught hygiene to new mothers. I'm trying to remember the names of the little bombed-out villages we sponsored. They were all turned to rubble. It was, as you say, a sister city thing. Between Malibu and one little village named after Bishop Romero. And then in Guatemala a little village named, I think, Los Espiritus."

"Nuevo Espiritu," he corrected me. "High Altitude. Did you get sick?"

"Excuse me?"

He began to gather his things. I thought he would bolt as he arranged his coat over his arm. He was, in fact, bolting.

"Wait!" I held my hand out like a traffic cop. For a brief moment, he looked like a man playing statue.

He narrowed his eyes. His grandfatherly smile became a mean grill. He smiled like someone who tasted evil and found it likeable.

"You know, in Guatemala," he stared into my eyes like a Svengali, "we never say assassinate. Instead, we use the word eliminate."

He pronounced the two terms like a drug pusher, a cad, a sex fiend, a demon straight from hell.

Then he vanished.

"Wait!" I jerked around. But he had stepped into the wave of people. Immediately I forgot what he looked like. He was a man who looked like everyone else. I stared hard at what I thought was his gate, but there was no flight scheduled. All the time he had been looking over his shoulder, he had been looking at something, or someone else. Because there were only a few loiterers sitting in the gate to Honduras across the corridor -- a few brown families who looked dismayed, as if they were lost, exhausted, and didn't know their way.

**SUBSCRIBE TO THE2NDHAND if you like reading our our respective broadsheet and online series -- any donation above $30 gets you a LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION to THE2NDHAND's quarterly broadsheet. See this page or send a payment through PayPal here:

OUR FRIENDS AT The Left Hand make great soap, salves, balms and other natural hygiene-type stuff, in addition to publishing a zine and running a book swap, a performance series and more from their Tuscaloosa, AL, homebase. When they offered to make something for us, we jumped. We introduce THE2NDHAND soap, an olive oil soap with a quadruple dose of Bergamot, "for the readers we've sullied..." Price is $6, ppd.