September 5, 2021 by archyde
“Something strange is happening,” his wife Silvia tells Barclays as soon as he wakes up after noon. Two friends of yours have written to me, telling me that they have an urgent need to talk to you.
Surprised because he boasts of not having friends, of having lost them all due to his novels and stories, vampirizing them, disfiguring them into fiction, Barclays asks:
-Which friends of mine write to you?
Silvia shows him her cell phone screen.
“Alfredo Balmaceda,” he says. And Gonzalo Zevallos.
“They’re not my friends,” Barclays clarifies.
Then she reads the messages that Balmaceda has written to her:
-Silvia, tell Barclays to call me urgently, as soon as possible, it is extremely important. I’m on a Greek island, in Spetses, it’s seven hours more than Miami. Call me as soon as you wake up, it’s very urgent.
Silvia complains to her husband:
-He doesn’t say thank you, I send you a hug, I miss you. He does not say goodbye. He treats me like I’m his secretary. What bad manners this guy has.
“It’s Balmaceda,” says Barclays. Do not expect courtesies or delicacies from him.
Alfredo Balmaceda is seventy years old and has dedicated his life to politics. He ran for mayor and lost. He ran for a seat in Congress and lost. He aspired to the presidency of the nation and lost. More than a professional politician, he is a dilettante of politics, a dilettante of literature, a dilettante of journalism. As a young man, the press called him The Prince. Tall, handsome, vain as a bullfighter, friend of bullfighters and poets, pompous speaker at funerals, Balmaceda often says that he was born in the wrong country:
-I must have been born in Spain. He would be president of the government.
Strictly speaking, Balmaceda has never worked. He has devoted himself to the intrigues, conspiracies, anguish and pettiness of politics, trying to occupy public positions that have eluded him, due to the heavy burden of his vanity. He has been astute in getting donations, contributions and grants for his projects: founding a magazine, running a study house, writing books of essays, all short-lived projects.
Barclays is quick to email Balmaceda:
-Dear Alfredo: I’m not talking on the phone. It hurts me. I am bipolar. I suffer from sensory disorders. I can not call you. Please tell me over here how I can help you.
Minutes later, Balmaceda answers that email:
-I can’t tell you in this way what it is about. My emails are being seized by agents of the dictatorship. Call me. It is very urgent that we talk.
Barclays thinks then:
-How heavy this Balmaceda, how stupid.
Of course, Barclays does not call him, does not intend to call him, although he wonders, curious, what is the matter so urgent that it excites the conspiratorial spirit of the dilettante Balmaceda. The last time they exchanged emails, Barclays was perplexed by the politician’s outrageous vanity.
“If you have not been able to be president, you should aspire to be ambassador to Spain,” he dared to suggest, since Balmaceda now lived in Madrid.
-No! Balmaceda replied, apparently aggrieved. The Presidency or nothing!
And he wrote “Presidency” like this, with a capital P, when the public offices in his country, Peru, are minuscule, or are occupied by minuscule, grotesque characters.
Then Silvia teaches her husband the urgent, peremptory, flamboyant messages of a certain Gonzalo Zevallos, who came to her, without knowing her, ordering her to wake up Barclays and put him on the phone with him:
“It is a very serious matter that has to do with the moral health of our country,” Zevallos would say to Silvia, without realizing that, for her, Peru, the country in which she was born, was probably no longer her homeland, or her only homeland, for she felt more comfortable living in the United States, her adopted homeland, the homeland she had chosen for herself and her daughter.
-Who is Gonzalo Zevallos? Silvia asks, puzzled. Is your friend?
Barclays laughs cynically.
“He’s not my friend, of course not,” he replies. Do not know him. If I see him walking in an airport, I would not know who he is.
-And then why does he write to you? Silvia asks. And who gave you my phone number? And who gave Balmaceda my cell phone?
“My mother,” says Barclays. All roads lead to my mother. She is conspiring with Balmaceda and Zevallos. She, I’m sure, gave them your phone number.
-But what do they want? Silvia asks.
“I don’t know,” says Barclays.
He immediately wrote to Zevallos:
-Dear Gonzalo: I am not talking on the phone. It hurts me. I am bipolar. I suffer from sensory disorders. I can not call you. Please tell me over here how I can help you.
Shortly after, Zevallos writes to Barclays:
-You must call me with great urgency. I invoke your sense of the Homeland. It is the homeland that is at stake.
Barclays and Silvia read “I invoke your sense of the Fatherland” and laugh. But who is Gonzalo Zevallos, who is now demanding that Barclays use the telephone for patriotic reasons, unspeakable in an email? He is a prominent lawyer, from a wealthy, influential family, who was a judge of the constitutional court. Barclays does not recall meeting him in person or ever having interviewed him, he only knows who he is by reading the newspapers in his country, a pernicious habit in which he persists with a self-destructive vocation.
Of course, Barclays does not call, does not intend to call, Gonzalo Zevallos, the man who writes to him on behalf of the Homeland.
What the fuck is going on? he wonders.
Not wanting to get caught up in a long phone conversation with his mother Dorita, who is in Lima, plotting to overthrow the far-left government, Barclays writes a short message to his brother John, telling him that Balmaceda and Zevallos are harassing him with patriotic messages, asking him if he knows where the shots are coming from.
Wasting no time, John sends Barclays an audio message:
-These two assholes from Balmaceda and Zevallos are biting our mother. They have convinced her that if she gives them money, they will be in charge of overthrowing the president. They’ve told you they need three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Our mother wants to give them that money. They have promised that, with that money, they will hire Mossad agents, who will obtain the evidence of electoral fraud. Then you would show the tests in your program. And then Congress, proven fraud, would be forced to remove the president. That is the plan of Balmaceda and Zevallos. That is the plan that they have sold to our mother.
Barclays immediately wrote two lines to his brother:
-And why the hell do they want to talk to me, if they’ve already convinced our mother to give them money?
John responds via audio message to the cell phone of Silvia, Barclays wife:
-You have already forgotten: you are the director of the family trust. Our mother cannot give three hundred and fifty thousand dollars to anyone, unless you expressly authorize her.
Only then does Barclays see how the puzzle is assembled alone.
-Are you going to authorize it? asks his brother John.
-No way! Barclays responds indignantly. I do not authorize you to give them anything, not three dollars and fifty cents. This pair of beggars are going to keep mom’s money. Or they’re going to give fifty thousand dollars to a retired Mossad detective, who must be a quack mythomaniac, and get the rest. On my corpse they will assault the good faith of our mother!
Furious, Barclays writes a short email to Balmaceda and another to Zevallos, telling them:
“I’m sorry to tell you that, as the director of the family trust, I don’t approve of my mother giving you money now or ever.” If you need money for your political operations, I beg you to have the delicacy to use your own money and not to assault the good faith of my mother, an octogenarian lady.
Balmaceda does not respond, remains silent.
Zevallos insists, stubborn as a mule:
“It is a misunderstanding, dear friend Barclays.” It is imperative that we speak. Your mother offered to finance us. We have not asked for anything. She offered us that money.
Barclays responds laconically:
-Well, I don’t approve of that donation, Gonzalo.
Then Zevallos returns to play the trite card of the Homeland:
-If our friends in the Mossad do not receive the money we have promised them, we will not be able to prove the electoral fraud that we have denounced and our country will fall into the clutches of communism: that is your historical responsibility, dear friend Barclays.
These beggars are terrifying, Barclays thinks, and he replies:
-Use your own money, Gonzalo. Leave my mother alone. And if you want to remove the president legally, get the votes in congress.
Later, Silvia receives a stream of audio messages from her mother-in-law, Dorita, Barclays’ mother, who begs for Barclays to call her on the phone.
Although he hates talking on the phone, Barclays, out of shame, calls his mother while driving to the television station.
-It is not fair that you forbid me to spend my money as I want to spend it! -Dorita complains, shouting.
“I understand, Mom,” says Barclays. But you and my brothers asked me to be the director of the family trust. I objected. You named me.
“And it’s very good that you’re the director,” Dorita continues. But if I, your mother, your dearest mother, ask you to approve this transfer to the accounts of Alfredo Balmaceda and Gonzalo Zevallos, then you, as my obedient and loyal son, have to approve it.
-No, mom. Sorry. I do not approve of it. I will not approve it.
-Why, son? Why? Do you no longer love your country? Don’t you care if the communists and terrorists rule us?
-I don’t believe Balmaceda and Zevallos, mom. They will steal your money. They are two great beggars. I don’t believe the Mossad spy tale.
-It’s not a story! It is real! I have met the Mossad spy, he came to my house for tea, he is a very handsome man, very well grown! I think he fell a little in love with me, you know? He told me that he will invite me to lunch one of these days. You do not know the illusion that I have, sonny!
-Great, mom. But don’t give him money, please. And less to Balmaceda and Zevallos, a couple of rogues. Let them use their money, what poor people they are not!
“What a shame, Jimmy!” I feel very sorry for you. How it shows that you do not have your moral values well placed. How do you notice that, by distancing yourself from God, you have also distanced yourself from your beloved homeland. You don’t give a damn if your country falls to communism!
-We’d better say goodbye, mom.
“I’m going to dismiss you as director,” Dorita threatens. I am going to dismiss them both: the president for being a communist and you, for being a dictator who does not let his mother spend her money as she gives her free will.
“To remove me, you need the votes of my brothers, and I don’t think you’ll get a majority,” Barclays reminds him.
Dorita is not fooled:
-I am going to get the votes in Congress and in the family to fire them both: the communist president and you!
That night, Barclays receives an email from Gonzalo Zevallos:
-I beg you to keep absolute, maximum discretion on matters that I would have wanted to explain to you over the phone and that, I understand, you have been able to talk with your Lady Mother.
Now the beggars are afraid that he will tell it all in one column, thinks Barclays.