Eileen R. Tabios

from COLLATERAL DAMAGE, a novel-in-progress

Introduction: This excerpt presents a group of spies from a CIA department called “CD”. Within the CD group, each spy is numbered in terms of importance; “CD #1” is the head of the department. All of the CD spies are orphans, so they often jokingly refer to the CIA as “Daddy C.”


Chapter 44

“You surprise me, CD #25,” I said as I entered Allan Reali’s office in the U.S. Embassy located in Papel, Brunda’s capital. “But I suppose there must be a reason why you’re ranked 25 instead of 2,500. Good on ya to figure out the latest way the Russians want to pulverize the world.”

           “Forgive me for not getting up,” he said unrepentantly as he didn’t get up. I took a closer look. Even seated, he looked much thinner than the last time I saw him.

           “You remember CD #182,” I said as Sofia entered his office.

           He sighed and got up. He grunted as Sofia succinctly said “Hello,” then dropped back to his chair. It was affirmed: he was as skinny as an Argentine Lake Duck’s penis, classified as the longest penis among birds. I once read about the scientifically dubbed Oxygura vittate: “known to extend its corkscrew-shaped appendage to ‘lasso’ females. When it’s not flinging its ding-a-ling like Spider Man shooting his web, it’s assumed the Argentine Lake Duck dangles its penis in the water like bait and tackle to attract small prey.”

           “But you didn’t get up for me,” I said, pretending to care.

           “No. What you meant to say is that I’ve gotten skinny enough to use floss as toilet paper,” he replied.

           “Huh,” I said for lack of a better thing to say. But then I thought I should embellish and added, “What’s a floss?”

           He talked past my witty witticism—as he often did which was so not cool—and ponderously explained, “I’ve been on the wagon since you last saw me. But I can’t be around food without hankering for the accompaniment of a drink. So I don’t just not drink but don’t wolf down those beloved proteins and carbs.”

           “Well…” I said as I considered how best to reply. “Does that mean you’re intelligent now without that alcoholic daze that used to permeate your days?”

           “Nice,” he said. “I’ll advance my assassination attempt on your ass.”

           As we grinned at each other, Sofia sighed. “Shall we move beyond your mutual verbal masturbations?”

           I didn’t move on. “And does this also mean you’re no longer a master of kuchisabishii?”

           “Nice,” he repeated. “I’ll advance my assassination attempt on your ass.”

           Before Sofia repeated herself, Allan waved at the chairs in front of his desk. “Sit,” he said with the air of resignation that he was about to listen to an old, already-heard-a-dozen times, and lo…o…ong story.

           “Actually, you look good, Allan,” I said, looking him over. “Your Slavic cheek bones have sloughed off their fatty blankets, the blues in your eyes haven’t faded from too much alcohol, your fingers have resurfaced from their fatty sweaters to reveal an elegance that wouldn’t be feared by piano keys, you’re probably up to two of your goal of six-pack abs since exercise reappeared in your repertoire, and whoah I see you’ve even dyed away the snow that once settled on your sideburns.”

           He looked at me, raised a slim finger to flick a 100% brunette lock away from his right eye, the better to stare steel at me, and replied, “Shut up.”

           “Why would piano keys be afraid…” Sofia began, then shook her head. “Never. Mind.”

           I answered anyway. “If you were a piano key, how’d you like to be the recipient of fingers thicker than yourself?”

           I would have been on a roll but in barged my trainees.

           “So…o…orry!” Alvara exclaimed as she and Laura wheezed their way to a stop behind our chairs. While the quality of their clothes had improved on Daddy C’s dole, they clung as tight as when they were still members of Bogota’s Bogocaca Gang. Midriffs also were bare between the bottom of their blouses and the top of their miniskirts. Never had muscles looked so good.

           Allan looked at them, his eyes traveling down from their blinking eyes to their heaving chests (perhaps staying there overlong) then down before going up again (spending time there overlong again) until his gaze returned to theirs.

           “Yours, I take it?” he said, moving his eyes to me.

           “Daddy C’s interns auditioning for permanent positions,” I said. “Laura and Alvara. They wouldn’t leave me when I left Colombia and, hey, I don’t mind entourages.”

           Allan snorted simultaneously with Sofia—Geez, is snorting that catching?

           Without warning, Allan yelled, “Aaaaaaaa-baaaaan!”

           “What the hell…?” Alvara said, trading looks with Laura.

           A petite man in shorts and camo t-shirt entered the room. “You called?” he said.

           “Of course, he called! He yelled loud enough to dislodge all of the unripe mangos in Colombia!” Alvara said.

           The man looked at Alvara—rather, looked up, I should say, since the top of his head was just beneath Alvara’s eyes—then paused to relish the sight.

           “Meet Aaban, my intern and Daddy C’s latest recruit in Brunda,” Allan said. “He’ll be your angel of iron as you tour lovely Papel.”

           “Angel of iron?” I asked.

           “What his name means,” Allan said. “He comes from the group of Afghan refugees taken in by Brunda during the U.S.’ departure from Afghanistan. His father was a translator there for U.S. military before being assassinated by the Taliban. He continues his family’s service to the U.S. through Daddy C.”

           He rose with seeming reluctance as he waved us all toward a round table next to his desk. “Let’s sit. We should go over the mission to make sure we’re all on the same page before I send you forth to probably fail and destroy the world.”

           “Meh,” I said as I stood. “It’s only the Russians—how could they possibly destroy the world?”

           As we moved round the table, Aaban rushing to pull out a chair for Alvara, Laura said, “You don’t have a high opinion of the Russians’ capabilities?”

           We all sat, Aaban shifting his chair closer to Alvara’s as I answered, “Well, it’s not like they couldn’t foil a bunch of orphans in Bogota, now could they?”

           Laura’s dark eyes glinted. “You don’t have a high opinion of orphans’ capabilities?”

           I grinned but ensured the good humor didn’t reach my eyes. I leaned over to give her a closer look of my non-grinning eyes as I said, “Whatever I say about orphans, Laura, understand that I earned the right to speak. I’m an orphan and I’m CD #1.”

           I suppose the effect could have been more impressive if Allan didn’t snort. “Is he still saying that a lot?” he asked Sofia. “I’m CD #1, whooo-hoooo!”

           I looked at Allan even as I called someone else. “Alvara…”

           Alvara suddenly had her hand in front of Allan’s face, holding a knife with its tip right in front of his discernible but noticeably less plump Adam’s apple.

           Allan didn’t switch his look away from me even as he whispered, “Aaban…”

           And Aaban suddenly had a gun’s muzzle leaning into the side of Alvara’s head.

           I grinned again, the humor reaching my eyes and making them, no doubt, sparkle as Laura’s when she sees chocolate. “Enough?”

           Allan grinned back and said, “For now.”

           “Collapse,” we both said and Alvara and Aaban withdrew weapons as they both settled back into their chairs.

           “I thought you liked me,” Alvara said, darting a look at Aaban.

           “It’s worse than that,” Aaban replied. His hand moved inside his jacket and took out a small black box from an interior pocket. He offered the box to Alvara as he opened it. Her surprised eyes dropped to the diamond ring within it.

           Aaban said, “Will you marry me?”

           I looked at Allan. He shrugged. “It’s his own idea. I said he should try to have some hidden tactic that he could pull out in minutes to surprise or distract enemies.”

           “Aaaawwww,” Alvara seemed to melt as she reached for the ring only to harden as a knife went past the box to be pointed against Aaban’s chest. “You think that’s funny? Using a tool for enemy distraction to propose marriage to me? To me? Do you know who I am?”

           “Obviously I don’t know who you are since we just met,” Aaban slowly said as he slowly closed and slowly drew back the box.

           “Collapse,” I ordered Alvara. With seeming reluctance—or sincere reluctance, who knew?—Alvara withdrew her knife. Twas time to get serious. But first I asked Allan, “I assume that’s a blood diamond you got in some prior mission?”

           “Nonsense. I keep all blood diamonds I come across. Daddy C couldn’t care less. As you know, whatever we come across in the field we keep. We’re not the Eff Bee Eye.”

           “Too bad. So, there, Laura. No need to mug Aaban out in the hallway.”

           “Gracias,” Laura replied sourly. “You’d anticipated me.”

           “Cubic zirconia, moissanite, or white sapphire?” I asked Allan.

           “What do you think?”

           My fingers tapped the desk as I pretended to think. Then I replied, “Cubic zirconia.”


           Laura said, “How did you know, and please don’t reply with a ‘Because I’m CD #1’.”

           Allan and I said simultaneously, “Because it’s the cheapest option and Daddy C’s a cheapskate!”

           Then we laughed and fist-bumped each other as the others looked on balefully.

           “Hell with it. Let’s have fun on this mission, Krii!” Allan said as he calmed down.

           “Sure, Allan,” I replied. Then I looked at the others. “But this time, maybe we can actually train our interns, so they don’t end up dead.”

           Then Allan and I cracked up again. Though I didn’t tell him so, I sincerely appreciated Allan. He behaved like me: an orphan who not only survived but now aspired to dominate whatever world entered our orbits.

           Domination was a great defensive strategy and we orphans survived from operating defensively, in turn an often (though not always) useful approach if we were going to bother to be professional spooks.

Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In 2021, she released her first novel DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times and first French book La Vie erotique de l’art (trans. Samuel Rochery). This excerpt is from her second novel, COLLATERAL DAMAGE. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is at https://eileenrtabios.com
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