"I've made my decision, Father. I am leaving Margovia, and there is nothing that you can do to stop me."
"You cannot do this to me, Maximilian, you cannot!" my father, Jose Panaquer, the Supreme Revolutionary and President of the Republic of Margovia, shouted back at me. His thick white hair and prominent chin shook with anger. "I will not let you do this to me, Max!" he continued. I will not! I won't allow it!"
"But how? How are you going to stop me, Father? Are you going to send the BIS after me, have them arrest me for 'unpatriotic behavior'? Are you going to make me disappear and then have Tio Miguel cut me open with a knife and then drop me from a helicopter into the Amazon for the piranhas to eat? You cannot kill me, Father. Not when Mother has already lost Alejandro. Can you really afford to let her lose another son?"
"Isn't that what you are going to do anyway by running away, Maximilian?" Father retorted. "Isn't your mother going to lose another son because you have decided that you would rather run away than face your destiny as the next ruler of this country?"
"That's not my point, Father!" I said back. "Alejandro died, he was killed because of you! And if you make me do what you want me to do, if you force me to become your new vice president, the people who killed Alejandro are going to begin targeting me as well! I don't want to die, Father, but more than that, I don't want you or Mother to go through the pain of losing yet another son. We were all devastated by Alejandro's death. I cannot, I will not have you go through that yet again for me. Because you know as well as I do that once I become your vice president, I will have a target on my back, a target that will never be removed until either you step down or I am dead too."
"You… you little… you ungrateful bastard! You want me, you expect me to step down from being president of Margovia just so you can live a quiet life with your riverside bitch?" Father asked me in a pained voice. "Do you have any idea of what I had to go through and the things I've done just so I could get to where I am right now? I've had to destroy my friendships, remove obstacles to my power, silence the critics and those who dared to doubt me! I made a deal with the devil, the bloody CIA, just so I can get my ass onto the presidency of Margovia! And I did all of that so that when the time comes that I have to meet my Maker, my children, my son, can keep that power within the family. Is that too much for one man to ask of his child?"
"I'm sorry, Father, but yes, this is indeed too much for you to ask of me," I replied somberly. "The last I looked, Margovia was still a republic, not a kingdom. And if you indeed want to keep the power in the family, why make me your successor? Why not make Cristina or Tadeo or even Tio Miguel your new vice president?"
"You know damned well why I cannot name any one of those three as my next vice president," Father replied. "Miguel is a general in the army; the constitution of 1947 expressly forbids a military officer from taking any sort of political position, no matter how minor, as long as he is still commissioned in the military. And your Tio Miguel loves serving the Army too much to even think about resigning his commission just so he can be my vice president. Cristina cannot be my vice president as well because she has both American and Margovian citizenship, and our constitution expressly forbids a person with dual citizenship for running for president because of the potential for a conflict of interest. As for Tadeo, he's like… he's like some politicians I know both here and abroad. He thinks with his balls instead of his head. He chases skirts. He won't last long before scandals will make his name mud and the Senate will be forced to step in and impeach him. That is why you are the best person for this job, Maximilian, because you are clean as a whistle. You are the model Margovian citizen. Everyone from the young to the old looks up to you as their ideal Margovian. You are their role model; they all aspire to be like you!"
"But I don't want to be a role model, Father," I protested, knowing all the while that I must sound like a whining toddler and a brat. "I don't want to be your vice president, Father. I want to be me, myself, Maximilian Panaquer! I don't want to be known as the son of the last dictator of South America. And if I have to physically run away from you and this country just so I can be myself then so be it!"
Father didn't speak for the longest time. He sat down on the edge of his desk and leaned back, obviously pondering the next words that he was going to say to me. "So this is how easy it is for you to turn your back on your country," he finally said to me in a low voice. "Your country calls upon you to serve her in her time of need, Maximilian, and your response is to turn your back to her, tuck your tail between your legs, and run away in the opposite direction as fast as your legs can carry you. Maybe you are right after all. Maybe you are indeed not fit to become my vice president. Maybe Tadeo or Miguel or someone else can be a better vice president than you will ever be.
"Go, Max," Father told me. "Go to wherever it is that you want to go. Go to America. Go to Europe. Go wherever you want! You can even bring your girlfriend from the docks with you," he said, referring to Victoria, my girlfriend at the time. "But know this, Max: if you find yourself in trouble in wherever you have decided to go then do not expect any help at all from me."
"I wouldn't dare accept any help from you anyway, Father," I replied, and then I turned around and stormed out of his office.
"Max," Amber said, shaking my shoulder and bringing me back to the present. "Get your seatbelt on. We're about to land."
I blinked twice and shook my head. I don't know if I had been daydreaming or if I had actually fallen asleep and dreamed about the day that I had left Margovia for what I thought was the first and final time. But the fact remains that I was now about to go back to everything that I thought I had left behind. In my years of living in the United States, I have come to believe that the mind can choose to operate independently of the body and that it can bring up some of the worst memories in a person's life once he nears the place where those memories have been formed in the first place.
I put my seat back in the upright position and fastened my seatbelt, and then I finished off the water bottle that I had ordered from the stewardess and used the water to gurgle and rinse off the dried saliva in my mouth. The descent to the airport was smooth; not a hint of turbulence was to be found. I felt my ears popping as the plane descended, but other than that there was no sign of any trouble at all. The landing was silky smooth as well, and the plane rolled to the gate without even stopping at least once. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Orlando Casimiro International Airport," the pilot said over the PA system. "Welcome to Icol, and welcome to the Republic of Margovia. We hope that you enjoy your stay in our wonderful country, and I would also like to thank you on behalf of the company for choosing to fly with Margovian Airlines."
"It doesn't feel too good to be back, to be honest," I said to myself. Or at least I thought I had only said it to myself, but apparently Amber had overheard me. She elbowed me in the gut and whispered to me, "Now is not the time or place for that, Max."
As the first two passengers in first class, Amber and I were the first ones off of the plane. As we walked down the jetway that would lead us into the arrivals terminal, I braced myself for the grand reception that I was sure that either my father, my mother, or at the very least some of Father's staffers, would have prepared for me upon my landing. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and then I stepped into the terminal…
…and I opened my eyes again when I realized that there was no grand reception for me and my grand return to Margovia at all. I looked around me and saw that it was business as usual inside the terminal, and that there was no one in there to greet me with so much as a cardboard sign which misspelled my name.
"Max, what's the matter?" Amber asked me as she entered the terminal right behind me. "Why did you stop?"
"It's nothing," I replied, shaking off my own concerns. "I just thought of something. It's nothing for you to worry about."
We walked over to the customs and immigration processing booths to get our passports stamped. It was right around early afternoon in Margovia when we arrived so there weren't a lot of people going through customs when Amber and I got there. I chose a booth with a relatively short queue (just about two or three people in front of me). The immigration officer in charge of this particular booth dealt with the queue swiftly, and soon the elderly gentleman in front of me passed through the booth with stamped passport in hand, and it was my turn to be processed.
The customs officer waved me forward to her, and then she said, "Bienvenido a Margovia, señor! Welcome to the Republic of Margovia. Please state the purpose of your visit: business or pleasure?"
"Business," I replied. "Family business. I intend to have it resolved as soon as possible, and then I hope to get back to the United States as soon as I can."
"Ah, I am so sorry to hear that, señor!" the customs officer replied. "Do give my condolences to your father and your family." She then selected the appropriate stamp for my visa and then stamped my passport. "Oh, and I do hope that you can spare the time to visit me, Señor Panaquer, before you leave the country again," she told me as she handed me back my passport.
The mention of my surname caused me to look at the customs officer more closely. "Don't you remember me, Max?" she asked me. "It's me, Victoria! Victoria Angeles? From high school! Remember me?"
"Victoria?" I repeated, blinking my eyes rapidly as I tried to recognize her. "Is that really you?" I asked her. "I didn't recognize you! My God, you've certainly grown! And you've changed as well, haven't you?" It was all true, you know. It's been a long time since I last saw Victoria, which was actually on the day of my actual departure from Margovia to the United States. Victoria was my first ever girlfriend. She had actually asked, begged to come with me to the US to live with me, but I had decided back then that if I was going to leave Margovia then I was to cut off all ties that I had with the country, and that had included Victoria. Victoria had told me back then that she was ready to accept my decision, but her body language that day had also told me that she was really, really angry with me about it. It looked as if time had healed this particular wound though, although I really couldn't say that with any certainty just yet. Maybe Victoria was just smiling at me today because she was in public and she was a customs officer. There was still a slim but distinct possibility that Victoria would strangle me as soon as the two of us were behind closed doors.
"Really, honestly, I cannot believe that you're here!" I said to Victoria. "You actually became a customs official, just like you always wanted. "And I hate to sound like a broken record but you have changed a lot since the last time I saw you!" And it was true. This was no longer the Victoria Angeles who was jumpy and scared of even her own shadow. The Victoria Angeles standing before me was now a woman of passion and vitality, and there was also a new single-minded determination shining in her eyes. And I can only imagine how much the rest of her has changed.
"I can say the same for you, Max," Victoria said in reply to my statement about her having changed a lot. "You have changed quite a bit yourself. But you might want to get a move on, though," she said with a smile. "My queue is piling up behind you."
"Oh, yes, of course," I said, and I picked up my passport from her counter and pocketed it as I passed through her booth. Before I left though, Victoria said to me, "I still live near the docks, Max. I'm sure that you still know your way to get there. And I'm sure that you still remember how to get in touch with me as well. Goodbye, Max."
"Goodbye, Victoria," I repeated.
"Until the next time," Victoria said, and then she was once again professional and dealing with the next person in line calmly and professionally, as if her first boyfriend hadn't just passed through her booth to get his passport stamped.
I waited for Amber to pass through customs, and then as soon as she got back to me she asked me, "Who's that girl? Who is she? Do you know her? You two were really friendly back there. How do you know her, Max? How well do you know her?"
Oh, women. I guess it's true, what they say about women. They really do know if their man is seeing someone else, especially if it's a woman. They just know. They don't even think about it. They just know. When it comes to that, I have always thought that honesty is the best policy. "She's an old girlfriend of mine," I admitted to Amber. "In fact, she was my first ever girlfriend. And I was also her first boyfriend. I had to break it off because I left, though. And you know all about that part of my story."
"Huh," Amber said, understanding slowly falling over her face. "So what you're trying to say is that she was your first love?" she asked me. Of course that was what she was going to get from all that I've told her.
"Yes, Amber, you could say that," I replied. "Now come on! The taxi lane is over there. We can check in a hotel near the hospital where Father is if we can get a taxi immediately. I want this done and over with as soon as possible, even if he is my father."
Of course, that plan of mine would come flying out the window as soon as Amber and I stepped outside the terminal. I saw a sleek black limousine parked almost right in front of the central gateway, as if the driver had known that we were going to come out of that particular point and had parked there to wait for us. Two large and muscular men in suits who looked very much like your stereotypical Presidential Protective Service agents (the Margovian version of the Secret Service) stood on either end of the limousine. And right beside the rear passenger door of the limousine was yet another large and well-built man, although he was most certainly not a Protective Service agent. This man had broad shoulders, big arms, a sturdy neck, a barrel-chested physique, and sturdy-looking legs. Reddish brown hair grew thick and fast on his head, and he also had a neatly trimmed mustache and beard that was the same color as his hair. A mischievous gleam lit up his dark brown eyes.
When this man saw me come out of the terminal, he held out his hands in front of him and he called out, "Max! Hermano!"
"Tadeo!" I said, unable to hold back my happiness at seeing him once again. We walked towards each other, and then Tadeo grabbed me into a strong bear hug. "Oh, it's good to see you again, Max," he said to me.
"It's good to see you too, Tadeo," I replied. "You might want to let go of me right now. I can't fucking breathe!"
"Si, I'm sorry about that," Tadeo said in apology, and he let go of me. "Goddamn it, Max! You look like a real grownup now! You really have changed, hermano."
"It wasn't easy, Tadeo," I said. "The first few years were really hard. I went over to America legally but at first I had to work alongside the illegal immigrants just so I could get some money of my own. But thank God that my legal immigrant papers got through and I was able to get much better work. I'm actually a teacher now, don't you know? I teach special education children."
"Good for you, man! Isn't that what you've always wanted, to be a teacher?" Tadeo sighed and then he held my shoulder. "We've all missed you, Max," he told me in a soft voice. "The whole family misses you. I have missed you. Heck, even Tio Jose has missed you, especially for the last few years."
"Really? He did?" I must admit that it was quite strange. It wasn't like my father to openly say that he missed anyone, especially the son that he says ran away from his duty when his country called upon him. Then again, maybe the awareness of his looming mortality had softened him, made him a more emotional or sentimental person.
"Ah! I see that you've brought a lady friend along with you," Tadeo said, noticing Amber for the first time. "I do hope that you do introduce me to her at some point."
I waved for Amber to come over to us. "Tadeo, meet my American girlfriend, Amber Eastwood," I said.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," Amber said, holding out her hand. But instead of shaking it, Tadeo bent down his head and kissed her hand, specifically her ring finger, like how a caballero would greet a dama. "The pleasure is all mine, señorita," Tadeo said to her with a saucy grin.
"Hey, hands off, she's mine. You already have your wife, kiss her," I said to Tadeo jokingly in Spanish. Then in English and to Amber, I said, "Amber, allow me to present to you His Excellency, Tadeo Virgilio Gabriel Miguel Panaquer Quebadia, the Vice President of the Republic of Margovia."
Amber's gray eyes widened once I had mentioned Tadeo's position. "You're the vice president of Margovia?" she asked him. "The vice president?"
"The one and only," Tadeo replied with a nod.
"And are you Max's brother?" Amber asked. "I heard you two calling each other hermano. I don't speak a lot of Spanish, but I do know that hermano means brother in Spanish."
"Actually, Max and I are cousins," Tadeo said. "Max's father is the brother of my father. But we call each other hermano because we're practically brothers from another mother, as you Americans like to say about your friends. In fact, I sometimes think that Max and I are closer together than Max's real brother Alejandro."
"Yes, that's true," I muttered. "But Alejandro is still my brother, right, Tadeo?"
"Oh, yes, of course," Tadeo said with a sheepish grin. To his credit, he seemed to have understood that now was not the time to air out the family's dirty laundry, especially in front of a woman whom even I have not yet confided much about my own family life other than the most pertinent facts.
"So, Max, how would you like to hop in to my car and I can take you and Amber wherever you want?" Tadeo asked to break the awkward silence that had descended upon the three of us.
"Oh, no, don't worry about us, Tadeo," I replied. "We'll be fine. I wouldn't want to impose on you."
"But I insist, Max," Tadeo pressed on. "Besides, I don't think you would want the tabloids to find out that you're back and that you've gone back on your solemn vow to never go back to Margovia."
"Um, why is that?" Amber asked me. "Why wouldn't you want people to know that you're back?"
"Let's just get in the car first," I said. Tadeo opened the door for Amber and I, and she got in first, followed by me and then Tadeo. The Protective Service agent nearest to us closed the door, and then the two agents got into the front of the limousine. The agent who was in the driver's seat asked, "Where to now, sir?"
"Let's get to the Air Force base to the north of the city, shall we?" Tadeo replied. "I have a feeling that the Air Marshal of the Air Force will like to know that her brother is back in the country."
"Yes, sir," the driver replied, and he started the car, grounded the gears, and then he finally got on the road that would take us from the airport to the city of Icol itself.
"So," Amber said to Tadeo, "you're the Vice President of Margovia, huh?"
"Yes, I am," Tadeo replied, nodding his head once again.
"Now, I don't want to sound insensitive or anything but," Amber continued, "if Max's father dies, then that means that you will become the next president of Margovia, right?"
Tadeo took a deep breath before replying. "Yes, that is true," he finally said, and there was a distinct hint of sadness in his voice. "It is my duty, after all, to succeed the president upon the death or resignation of the current president."
The drive had taken us right through the center of Icol itself. As the capital of the Republic of Margovia, Icol was a combination of our Spanish colonial past and our independent South American present and future. The edges of the city were where the majority of the business and commerce in the city happened, while the center of the capital, which was on the southern banks of the Rio Icol, held the vast majority of the country's government offices.
The Rio Icol held a very special place in the history of the Margovian nation. The place that would eventually become the city of Icol was originally established as a Spanish trading post with the nearby native tribes, but when war eventually and inevitably broke out between the Spanish and the Empire of the Arbat (the most powerful native tribe in the area), the trading post was converted into a fortaleza, a miniature fort, and it was eventually named after the first military commander of the fortaleza's garrison, Don Victorino de Gascon.
After the Arbats were defeated and subjugated by the Spanish colonizers, Fortaleza de Gascon expanded from being a mere fortification into a large if not exactly bustling frontier town of the Viceroyalty of the Amazon, the Spanish name for the territory that they had acquired from their war with the Arbats. The seat of power, the capital of the viceroyalty was in Ciudad Arbat, which had been established on the razed ruins of the original settlement that was the capital of the Arbat Empire. However, when the territory took part in the Latin American wars of independence as the Nation and Government of Margovia, Spanish forces practically overran the defenses in Ciudad Arbat, forcing the transfer of the Margovian capital to a city that was much more easily defendable, and that city turned out to be Gascon.
The Margovian capital returned to Ciudad Arbat upon the end of the Margovian War of Independence which saw the country win its freedom as an independent nation, but the capital would have to be moved back to Gascon following the Six Years' War between the factions of Julio Soledad and Paloma Vergara. The capital returned to Ciudad Arbat once again following Soledad's victory in the Six Years' War, but after the Margovian Revolution that overthrew the junta that had been ruling the country for over thirty years following the death of Julio Soledad, the capital was permanently moved to Gascon, and Gascon itself was renamed Icol after the river that flows through it.
My father Jose Panaquer was the latest in a long line of Presidents of Margovia dating back to Basilio Agbayani, the colonel who had risen up against the junta and established the Republic of Margovia in 1923 after his forces had defeated the junta. Jose Panaquer had been ruling over Margovia since 1986, the last few years of the Cold War, and even though the Soviet Union and communism had finally fallen, Father maintained close ties between Margovia and the United States even as the rest of South America began to band together to form a community that wouldn't be guided or meddled with by any outsiders, especially the norteamericanos. However, given Father's current condition, it looked as if Margovia would finally be free to chart its own path and forge its own destiny; that is, if Tadeo chose to follow a different path from Father's.
As we drove along Icol's wide streets and broad sweeping avenues, I saw the numerous statues, murals, and billboards depicting my father's instantly recognizable profile and figure that had been erected on his orders to create a cult of personality around himself. It was Father's way of making sure that the people of Margovia would know that he was constantly watching over them, even if he was on his deathbed right now. It didn't matter to him for what reasons the people would remember him; all that mattered to Father was that he would be remembered after his death.
One thing that I could definitely say about my father though: he certainly knew how to make himself a very imposing presence even if he was not physically among us. He had a certain power or charm that made him able to impose himself upon anyone who so much as looked upon even just a single portrait of him. He had this air of paternal responsibility and invincibility upon him, like he was the kind of father who would discipline his children often and sometimes roughly, but if anyone else so much as dared to lay a finger on his children, he would defend his children to the bitter end.
And Father could also look good in whatever it was that he would choose to wear in his portraits and murals. Whether it was a general's uniform or a simple suit with the presidential sash, Jose Panaquer could pull it off. And his numerous portraits, murals and statues all over the country also served another purpose: to make the criminals and the dissidents believe that he was watching over their every single move.
Amber looked out the limousine to see what I was looking at, and when she saw the murals and billboards of my father strewn all over Icol, her mouth fell open. "Oh, wow!" she said once she had recovered. "Your father really is everywhere, Max! You weren't kidding about that part!"
"Yes," I replied. "That's what he wants. To tell the people that he is watching over them, and that they all cannot escape his eyes."
"Oh, and Max, I can't believe I'm saying this, but your dad is actually quite handsome, in his own way of course."
"Yeah, my father does now how to make himself an ever-present presence," I said. Physically, my father was literally a larger-than-life figure, although he was more bulky than muscular. His hair was as white as the snow on the Andes, and he had very rounded cheeks and a very (and I do mean very) prominent chin. If there is ever any character with a massive chin in Margovian media then he is obviously a caricature of my father.
As we passed by even more murals, billboards and statues of my father, I heard Tadeo heave a long and loud sigh beside me. "It's going to be absolutely difficult to be the man supposed to step into your father's shoes," he said to me. "All those things that he did to keep himself in power… I don't think I have the stomach to do even just a small fraction of those things."
"But you wouldn't have to do any of those things anyway, Tadeo," I told him. "He did it because that's what he needed to do to consolidate his power. But all you would have to do after he's gone is to see out the rest of his current term, and then you can let the others lead Margovia."
"That's the thing, Max," Tadeo told me. "A few days before your father collapsed, when he was talking to me about his succession plan, I sort of got the feeling that your father wanted me to keep running for reelection every time that I can. I don't think the people will take kindly to that at all. One Panaquer dictator is already more than enough for them. How can I hope to keep myself in office after I've completed his term?"
"You know, that's one of the reasons why I left, Tadeo," I said. "We all know that Alejandro was supposed to be Father's successor. Alejandro was always going to be the next president of Margovia after Father dies. But then Alejandro was assassinated, and Father turned to me to be his new successor because I'm the only one who made sense for him. I couldn't do it. I didn't want to do it. That's why I left, and that's why you got stuck with the job of succeeding Father when he passes. It's an absolutely wretched position to be in, Tadeo, and I'm sorry that I ever put you in that place."
"But now that I'm here, I have to do it, right?" Tadeo asked. "It's only my duty to my country."
"Yes," I said, nodding my head. Once again I wondered whether leaving Margovia behind had been the right decision for me to make, or if I should have just swallowed my pride and allowed myself to become Father's vice president.
"Max, can I ask you a question?" Amber said to me after another awkward pause in the conversation.
"Of course you can," I replied. "What is it?"
"Didn't you say something about how you felt as if Tadeo was more of a brother to you than your real brother?" Amber asked. "I hope I'm not asking anything awkward about that, but why is that?"
"Don't worry, Amber, it's all right," I said. "Now where do I start? You know what, Amber? Let's just say that Alejandro has always been very close to my father, while I was closer to my mother than anything else."
"Wait, so you're telling me that you're a mama's boy?" Amber asked me, and I could see the first hints of a teasing smile forming on her lips. "How come I haven't heard any of this about you before?"
"Would you have been my girlfriend if I had told you that I was a mama's boy?" I asked her back. "And it didn't seem to be important at the time so I never said anything about it," I quickly backtracked.
"Oh, Amber, you will not believe the things that Little Max over here had managed to get away with just because of his relationship with his mother," Tadeo added with a shit-eating grin of his own.
"Well, you should know how that feels, Tadeo," I retorted. "Because as far as I can remember, not only were you a mama's boy yourself, but you were also a daddy's boy! Yeah, I know what Tio Miguel and Tia Milena gave you for your birthdays. Wouldn't you say that you're absolutely spoiled because of that?"
"Well, what can I say?" Tadeo replied. "I am an only child. I feel as if it is my privilege, my right, my prerogative, to be spoiled by my parents."
"And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen," I said, triumphantly holding out my hand at Tadeo. "The vice president of Margovia himself has admitted that he is a spoiled brat. How will the administration recover from such a scandal?"
"Mr. Vice President, we are here," the driver of the limousine reported. Right at that moment, we all heard the distinctive whooshing noises of jet planes flying above us. "Oh, your sister is going to be in for a hell of a surprise when she lands and finds you waiting for her here," Tadeo said.
One of Tadeo's Protective Service agents opened the door of the limousine and Amber and I got out first, followed by Tadeo. We found ourselves standing on the tarmac of Icol Air Force Base, the largest airbase in the whole of Margovia. The limousine was parked some distance away from the main line of Margovian Air Force fighter jets but we were still close enough to the apron and taxiways that we would be able to see who had touched down.
Two American-made F-16 Fighting Falcons bearing the yellow, green, blue and red roundels of the Margovian Air Force overflew the base's main runway, and the lead jet wagged its wings at us as it passed us by. The two F-16s turned around and landed on the parallel runways as smoothly as they possibly could. The two fighters then turned onto the taxiway and rolled over to where the limousine was parked. Ground crews brought their ladders over to the F-16s, allowing both pilots to step out. The pilot of the lead F-16 descended from her cockpit with an understated feminine grace, and once she was on the ground she removed her helmet and shook out her long blond hair. Once she was done doing that, she looked over at the limousine and saw that it was the vice president on the tarmac waiting for her.
"Tadeo!" Maria Cristina Leona Panaquer de Leon, Air Marshal of the Margovian Air Force and daughter of President Jose Panaquer of Margovia, called out. "What a pleasant surprise seeing you here! I was not expecting the vice president of the country to personally wait for me to finish my refresher flight!"
"Yes, Cristina, and I'm also sure that you're probably not expecting the visitor we have with us tonight!" Tadeo replied. That was when Cristina turned to look at me, and her eyes widened in surprise. "Max! You're back!" she cried out, and then she ran over to where I was standing, dropped her helmet, and embraced me.
"Oh my God, Max, I've missed you so much!" Cristina said to me as I returned her embrace. Cristina was older than me by quite a few years, but at moments like these, I sometimes felt as if I was the older brother to her.
"Yes, I'm back, I know," I replied, and then I said, "I think you know why I'm here, though, Cristina."
Cristina finally released me from her embrace. "Dad. Of course," she said. "I don't know if Tadeo has already told you this, but Dad misses you. He's missed you since the day you left. In fact, even as he was being rushed to the hospital, the first words that he said were 'I hope I get to see Max one last time before I die.'"
"I must say that that doesn't really sound like Father at all," I said.
"But it's true. And you're also right, Max," Cristina nodded. "Dad hasn't been the same since Alejandro died and then you left us all so quickly after that. But I don't think that this is the best place to talk about this. Why don't we continue this conversation in Tadeo's car, huh?" Cristina asked. "I'll go get changed into some better, more appropriate clothes, and then we can talk in the car."
"Sure, sure, of course," I said, nodding my head.
As Cristina followed her wingman back to the base, Tadeo turned to his Protective Service agents and said, "You heard the Air Marshal. She will be joining my cousin, his girlfriend and I back to the Margovian Palace." The agents nodded their heads and then resumed their normal stances around the limousine.
"Your sister's an air marshal as well?" Amber asked me. "That means she's the commander of the whole bloody Air Force of Margovia, is that right? So your father is the president of your country. Your cousin is the vice president. Your sister is the air marshal of the air force. How powerful is your family really, Max? And do you have a position in the government of your own that you're only going to tell me now because you're now back here?"
"To answer your second question, Amber, no, I don't have any position in the Margovian government at all," I replied. "In fact, I think that given my current situation, I wouldn't be eligible for any position at all under the current constitution. But as for how powerful my family is, let's just say that you have no idea how powerful we Panaquers really are. You have no idea, Amber. I'm not even exaggerating. This, all of this, this is why Jose Panaquer became president of Margovia. And this is why he wants to keep it all in the family."