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Vacation Package

The American Dream comes at a steep price....

The steepest part being ... one day you have to wake the fuck up.

Vacation Package by Christopher L. Irvin




Chen waited in one of two designer fiberglass chairs facing a modern desk, floor-to-ceiling windows and city skyline beyond. The city that had taken them in, given them work and a place to stay, had once called in a favor. Now it was calling again.

He briefly pondered the number of zeroes on the price tag attached to the view. Wondered how much of the tab the city was on the hook for. His hands lay powerless in his lap. Decades of hard work in local government, and still he was unable to discard the shackles of his parents’ undocumented status. From plowing the streets in the winter, to organizing voter programs and working with troubled teens, Chen had given his life to the city. It was all he knew, all his family knew. He’d risked everything for this place, his home.

And now his struggle out of poverty had led him to the spartan office, full of advanced polymers and sleek metals. The setting was in stark contrast to his father’s experience, back in the days of worn leather wingbacks, earthy cologne and pine. As his mother would say, “same same, but different.”

He missed the sweet scent of tobacco that had clung to his father during their last embrace, before he sat his son down on a bench in City Hall and entered that smoke-filled room, resigned to assuming the misdeeds of another. It was only wire fraud; he’d gotten off easy. Easy if that had been the end of it. The stint was supposed to be temporary, but a bad case of tuberculosis took him before he could serve more than a year. Tough luck, they said. He would have come home with a nice pension. It took years for Chen’s anger with his parents to fade, but he knew if his father had ignored the message, it would have put them in the crosshairs for deportation. Now the threat was worse.

Behind Chen, the heavy glass door clicked shut, signaling the beginning of his sentence.

“I appreciate you coming in today.” Duffy circled around the table, filling the room with an acrid smell of spiced body spray. Baby-faced and entitled, the new power crop. Chen knew the type all too well. “You know how much the mayor appreciates this. How much the city appreciates your sacrifice in the interest of order.”

Right, sacrifice. If only it was mine to freely give. Chen looked down at the polished floor, noting the scuffmarks along the insides of his shoes. His immediate family knew nothing of the matter. He’d hidden the shame and secret well, but the extended effort to do so made his presence in the office only hurt more. Time wrapped around his heart like a vice, squeezing with each passing second. Duffy plopped into his chair, pulled a manila folder out of a side drawer and laid it on the desk.

“Bourbon? Might be appropriate given the circumstances.” Duffy chuckled, taking a swig from a water bottle.

Chen closed his eyes, letting the tears sting.

“Sorry, thought a bit of humor might grease the skids. I drew the short straw to be the bearer of bad news.”

“Tell me what happens next.”

Duffy flipped open the folder, drew a pen from his shirt pocket and ran it along the length of the page before setting it down. “First, let me reassure you that Marissa and the kids will be taken care of while you’re away.”

The “kids.” Asshole doesn’t even know their names.

They’d agreed to put off having children until Marissa could establish her consulting gig. But it was slow going, and it tore at Chen to watch his wife flounder in a depression between career and family. So he called in a few favors, let the city remember what his father had done for them, what he was prepared to do for them. A few arms were twisted and as a result, business boomed. Chen buried the secret of his wife’s success under years of happiness, finally catching his elusive American Dream.

Until they took him aside and gave him a little reminder of their need for a man to take a fall. Showed him the evidence of corruption, the kickbacks and how easily they could tear his wife down. Chen was pushing forty-five with a pair of three-year-olds, Karen and Grace. His little ladies. Their smiles would haunt him in the darkness of his cell.

“Now, in return for your full cooperation, the package includes….”

The package. Chen chewed on his cheek as the kid sold him a deal on the vacation package of a lifetime. He stopped listening when Duffy dug into the details of the incident. Caught some of the buzz words—DUI, vehicular assault, gross negligence, property damage, fleeing the scene—the details didn’t matter. A stand-in guilty plea was on order to maintain the status quo. The name of the actual offender was omitted, of course. He’d never know the identity of the official whose sins he was called to own. Maybe the police commissioner, one of the mayor’s top aides. The crime rate was one of the pillars in the coming election. The race was close, and a bit of drunken drama could swing votes. He shifted in his seat, the awkward angles uncomfortable against his back.

A gray bird with flecks of white along its breast stole his attention as it struggled in the high winds outside the building. If only he possessed the courage to fight, a sliver of the will that had pushed his father to smuggle him and his mother from China into the U.S. to avoid persecution. Life is a constant struggle, his father used to say. But a man could only do so much.

The bird turned its head and dove.

Christopher L. Irvin has traded all hope of a good night's rest for the chance to spend his mornings writing dark and noir fiction. His stories have appeared in Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Weird Noir, Action: Pulse Pounding Tales Volume 2, and The Rusty Nail Magazine, among others. He’s one of the editors at Shotgun Honey and lives with his wife and son in Boston, Massachusetts. You can find him online at www.HouseLeagueFiction.com and @chrislirvin.