BETWEEN THE BOOKS
DMZ (AKA: Demilitarized Zone): A middle ground between an organization’s trusted internal network and an untrusted, external network, such as the Internet. Also called a “perimeter network,” the DMZ is a subnetwork (subnet) that may sit between firewalls. Organizations typically place their Web, mail, and authentication servers in the DMZ. DMZ is a military term that refers to the area between two enemies. See ‘bastion host’, ‘firewall’ and ‘opening a port’.
—PC Mag Encyclopedia
February 14, 2019, La Posada Milagro Restaurant, McAllen, TX
Dr. Juana Cadena gracefully stepped from her Uber ride clad in her pale blue, sleeveless sheath dress, with matching clutch and four-inch heels. Her hair was styled in a French twist that sparkled with silver strands against a glistening black backdrop. A Hermes scarf draped her neck and added an abstract assortment of color to an otherwise monochromatic pallet. She pulled a large L.L.Bean tote bag from her ride, smiled, and thanked the Uber driver.
“Really, Juana, we no longer live in the twentieth century,” Michelle Tate smiled. “You can wear a trouser suit, you know. At our age, it is considered normal. Hillary Clinton campaigned throughout in trouser suits.”
“Yes, mija, and see where that got her,” Juana fired back. “Please open your car’s trunk so I can put this essential wardrobe accessory in your car. Speaking of automobiles, why are you driving a black Ford Taurus? Even I would not be caught dead driving that abuela-mobile.”
“Well, since you never had a driver’s license for the forty-five years I’ve known you,” I can see why you couldn’t, let alone wouldn’t.” Michelle added, “I really did not know that you
cared about automobiles at all. For your information, my Mercedes is due to arrive next month. Until then, it’s a black Taurus abuela-mobile.”
“Fine. By the way, I met you when we were two years old in the middle of the Price Road in Brownsville, when Price Road was still a one lane dirt patch surrounded by the shacks we called home,” Juana noted. “You had dirty diapers on and I had nice blue, cotton panties with blue lace trim.”
“I wasn’t toilet trained at the time,” Michelle laughed. “Are we really going to discuss old times in the parking lot when it’s ninety-five degrees and one hundred percent humidity or are we going to go inside a nice, air-conditioned restaurant and have lunch?”
Juana rolled her eyes, but offered a grin. “If you wish. Let us go inside where I can have my first martini of the day. See? Since I don’t drive, I can drink.” Juana led the way; she looked like a 1950’s actress—slim and graceful. Both Juana and Michelle were only forty-seven.
The waiter placed them at a stylish table where they could talk and be seen, but not overheard.
“I was going to invite you to lunch a couple of days after you arrived to take your position as Executive Director of McAllen EDC,” Juana began. “However, it seems you were busy getting adjusted to your new job and managing that half-sister of yours and her
stormtroopers. And then I had to wait until they cleared the Hidalgo International Bridge of the disemboweled bodies that her team left flapping in the breeze. Let’s see, that left your board of
directors in a state of disarray when at least two of the bodies belonged to your board—You do know that at least two of the bodies were part of the commercial bank that did money laundering
and set up bogus lines of credit for Columbian cartel members and housed your offices? You have been a very busy girl.”
“Yes, the EDC has gotten so much publicity. CNN picked up the story and now I’ve been interviewed for 60 Minutes. I certainly have hit the ground running.”
“Indeed,” Juana admitted. “I’m fortunate then to have this time with you.” She sipped her martini like time was the last thing on her mind. “I did want to reconnect with you again, though. Our past was magnificent. We both fled the Valley and started university at Radcliff, followed by masters and doctorates at Boston University. What promising careers we had back then, with you in finance and economics and me in Seventeenth Century British literature.”
“Yes, I must say that our small, leased brownstone on Marlboro Street was legendary as being the finest apartment in Back Bay. The fact that I was the mistress of Tom Lea made life so
much easier for all of us roommates.”
“Yes, of course your social connections made our lives sparkle.” Juana smiled. “As I remember, you were also fucking the most famous Michelin Five Star Chef in Boston, the most famous art collector of Nineteenth Century Impressionists, and that famous opera singer from Spain. You were certainly a busy girl back then, too. It’s amazing that you actually completed your graduate work, as well as all that.”
“Juana, that opera singer was just a one-night stand, and I really couldn’t stand him after fifteen minutes,” assured Michelle. “So he does not count. And Catherine and you dated, too. I’m
not the only one of our household who got around, so drop your moralizing; it’s not attractive.”
“Poor Catherine had to resort to professional help after just a week with us. The lovely creature was so fragile. I think that being an orphaned heiress and having to live with her auntie and appalling cousin on Cape Cod was enough to fray anyone’s nerves. Imagine having her parents stipulate that she would have none of her money until she was thirty-five years old. That bestselling spy novelist cousin of hers was a master of mind manipulation. He constantly
belittled her, and of course, auntie always took his side of the argument.”
Michelle nodded. “Well, I’m glad you’ve stopped blaming me for the fact that she walked into the Atlantic the evening after my wedding to Tom. She simply did not take her medication so that she could gulp champagne during the wedding reception, and then forgot to take another pill.”
“Yes, I will never forget the look on her cousin Jack’s face when he found out that she had hired the best probate attorneys in Boston to make sure her fortune did not go to him or his mother. It was priceless,” Juana mused.
“However, what brought that mother and child to their pompous knees was the fact that Catherine left all those billions to a nonprofit for homeless women, and the executrix of her will
was the executive director of that nonprofit. She was Catherine’s lover, too. Absolutely priceless, the agony on their faces.” Michelle laughed. “Now, what shall we have for lunch?”
“I know you want to ask me something, Juana,” purred Michelle after their luncheon salads were consumed. “You are very poor at being inscrutable with that facial tick of yours. Your lips pucker and shift from side to side. So, what is it you want?”
“Well, I do have students,” began Juana, “who flee from my office during review sessions. They swear my lip shifting is the harbinger of a bad temper. They scatter like mice when they confess their term papers will be tardy. However, I am generally well loved by my students. As head of the English Department, I’m generally accepted by the faculty, too. Which leads me to a topic that I’d like to address.”
“Yes, Juana,” Michelle sneered. “Do say what you want to say. I know it’s killing you.”
“Mija, you must know that we were able to get such a sterling higher education because Federal money for disadvantaged teens flowed, and concessions to the Ivy League institutions abounded. Those kids who are now the age we were when we fled have absolutely no place to find quality education, except in the state university system, here in Texas. But, Michelle, it is very difficult to attract faculty of our caliber with no State funding from the Red State of Texas, which continues to be the most uneducated state in the nation, expect for Mississippi. And, frankly, you and I both see the fall-out of having no viable State legislation for quality-of-life
issues or higher education. The State legislators are more focused on penalizing those who use the wrong public bathroom and making sure poor women have absolutely no access to healthcare, than legislating laws for access to quality higher education. Those upright and evangelical legislators have no desire to benefit the less fortunate or gender deprived. I will bet you, if asked the question, ‘What would Christ do?’ they would push a two-by-four plank in the
spokes of the bicycles of the poor and call that ‘Christian’.”
“Yes, I already know that about our bigoted and misguided state. What is it you think that I can do to remediate the situation?” Michelle asked.
“Tony and I need for you to teach an Eighteenth-Century Literature class and another class in general economics…this semester.” Juana finally spat out what was needed.
“Who is Tony?” asked Michelle.
“Dr. Antony Cisneros is the Department Head of Economics at University of Texas, Brownsville. He’s also my fiancé. We are planning a June wedding,” Dr. Cadena said wearing a
“Congratulations, Juana! But Juana, I work at the EDC. How can I possibly teach in Brownsville?” asked Michelle.
“You could teach Tuesdays and Thursdays from six p.m. to midnight. Eighteenth Century is on Tuesdays; economics is Thursdays. We have administrative assistants who can take care of
the paperwork and photo copying. All you need to do is lecture and grade papers. It would be easy for you,” Juana said, delighted she’d finally asked.
“That’s a great deal to ask of any one person. I know you can pay only about two thousand for each semester, but the preparation for class is enormous. How would I hold their attention for six hours?”
“Michelle, you hold your staff and director’s attention for that length of time each day. You’re captivating. You love this material, besides, and you will transfer that love of subject matter to your students. Please say you will come with me to see the campus and then decide later this afternoon.”
“Let me call my new assistant and let her know I can be reached by phone or text. I’ll drive us to Brownsville, and I’ll see what the campus is like,” Michelle agreed. “But no promises.
“I don’t think it will be more than an hour to get to the campus,” Juana said, openly relieved to have Michelle agree to at least see the university. “You can just leave to go back to Ranchero La Mancha at any time. How do you like Edina’s little bruja house, anyway? She bought the place from her mother’s estate when it became apparent that Yolanda’s slimy attorney wanted it for
himself. Edina was never the brightest candle in the wick, but always knew what she wanted. She married the wealthiest medical doctor in the Valley, and she had the best finishing school
education that Mexico City had to offer. The girl was never going to be Cordelia de la Garza, the beverage distribution heiress from Mexico City, but she always had a solid understanding of her
place in life.”
“Yes, I did get to meet Cordelia during the LBGTQ gala and concert a few weeks ago. That woman knows how to put on a party and raise money for worthy causes. She’s also a magnate for conflict and murder. She will make an excellent corporate attorney in Mexico,” Michelle said. “We are almost to Brownsville. Want to tell me what’s in the L.L.Bean tote bag?”
“Mija, you know the UT Brownsville campus sits right next to the river, and that Matamoros retail district is very close to the parking lot. You have read about the cartel’s violence that breaks out during periods of unrest. This is an unsettled time, Michelle. And the incident at Hidalgo International Bridge ignited another rash of gun violence among competing cartels. Sometimes gun fire erupts in Matamoros and the campus catches incoming gun fire. To
help protect our students and faculty, each wears a flak jacket when they step outside the building, which is what the tote bag holds. The flak jacket is for you; you must wear it anytime you go outside. It is for your own protection.”
“Is it that bad, Juana?” asked Michelle.
“Yes. Now take that parking place right over there near the main entrance to the Department of Economics,” Juana insisted. “When you step out, wear the vest.”
Michelle did as she was told, and together, they walked the steps of the building.
Michelle stopped. “But Juana, you don’t have a flak jacket.”
Michelle heard a faint hiss pass by her ear and Juana immediately cried out.
“Ouch!” she yelled, clutching her upper arm. A security guard opened the entrance door and pulled them inside. He started calling for Dr. Cisneros.
“Juana! You don’t have a flak jack on,” Michelle cried.
“I didn’t think I needed one for the brief time we were outside. Now, I’ve been nicked by a bullet and it’s bleeding all over my dress. I hope it doesn’t leave a scar,” Juana said with
Dr. Cisneros raced over to the two women. “Juana! Are you hurt?”
“Well, of course I’m hurt, Tony,” Juana replied in an annoyed tone. “I’m bleeding all over my scarf that Michelle tied around my arm to stop the bleeding; your office floor has a puddle of blood on it, too.”
“Juana, we need to get you to the hospital to get some stitches and see if you need other medical attention,” Dr. Cisneros ordered, turning to Michelle. “I’m so sorry to meet you, Michelle, under such circumstances. I’d like to meet you again, but right now Juana needs her arm attended to.”
“I certainly understand, Tony. When you get to the hospital let them know she had three martinis for lunch, which was about one-and-a-half hours ago, if they want to give her pain meds. Juana is also allergic to penicillin and amoxicillin; she’s always had blood coagulation problems. She will probably go into shock at any moment, so off you go. I’ll call later,” Michelle said.
He nodded. “Thank you…and welcome to the faculty of UT Brownsville,” Tony said as he picked Juana up and carried her out the doors to his car parked in the back of the building.
As Michelle watched them leave, she turned to the concerned security guard. “Is it always like this?”
He sighed heavily. “Some days are worse than others.”