"So what brings you in today?" asked the man across the desk from me.
"Well, Mr.--" I glanced at his name tag. Gonzales. "José. I saw your ad in the paper for part-time census takers, and it said it was a perfect job for retirees, students, and out-of-work mercenaries."
"I see," José said. "And how long have you been retired?"
"I'm not retired. I'm a mercenary. Un hombre de action."
"My apologies," José said. "It's just that you're so old and fat, I naturally..."
"No apology necessary; I get that all the time. Just tell me about the job."
"Certainly." He adjusted his glasses. "As you may know, it's believed that our minority and immigrant populations have been under-represented in previous censuses. Censii? Whatever. And we're sending out extra census takers to go into minority neighborhoods and identify these citizens."
"Smoke 'em outta their holes," I said, nodding.
"Um...I guess that would be a way of putting it, pendejo. It's been hard to find enough workers for these roles, because the neighborhoods involved are terrifying. But for you, a mercenary...No problem. Basically you go door-to-door and find out who lives there along with some basic demographic information." He raised an eyebrow. "Does that sound like something you could do?"
"Sure," I said. "Re-con areas suspected of harboring minorities. Locate, identify, and interrogate suspected minority and or immigrant residents. Communicate to these suspects the policy of the United States government vis-a-vis census procedures and participation in same."
"They're not suspects, cabrón. They're people. We're trying to help them."
"Sure, José. I'll help them...and then deal with targets of opportunity as they present themselves. So what does this gig pay?"
"The starting rate is fifteen dollars an hour, but in your case we're willing to pay considerably less."
"How much less?" I narrowed my eyes like George W. Bush staring down a polecat.
"Minimum wage," José said, half-smiling.
"Mexican minimum wage," José added.
"Even better," I said, though later I would find out my mental conversion of pesos to dollars had been slightly inaccurate.
"Great, then you will start tomorrow." He scrawled my name on a badge and handed it to me along with a map. "You will be going door-to-door in my favorite neighborhood, McFab. We Latinos call it 'El barrio que no es muy mala pero es un función de a qué hora del día en que ir allí y si son mexicanos o negro o blanco, o lo que sea del tipo y, a veces, hay venta de drogas, pero la mayoría sólo la marihuana por lo que no es tan malo como sería si se tratara de crack o algo, pero aún creo que es un mal tipo de barrio, ahora que lo pienso.' Or 'West Fort Braggart,' for short."
"I know West Fort Braggart," I said. "I accidentally drove through there once on my way to East Fort Braggart."
"Then you'll have no--immediate--problems," José said. "Good luck tomorrow, my friend. Or as we say in Spanish, me cago en ti." He beamed and shook my hand.
"May cargo entity," I repeated back to him. I finally had a job.
The next day. 1330 hrs.
My job description said "part time," so after clocking in at the bureau in the morning I drove to my favorite strip club and nursed a few Zimas until mid-afternoon. One last suspiciously-long visit with the men's room, and it was soldiering time. I paid my tab, tipped Amber an extra five bucks to put towards her harelip operation, and left The Petting Zoo for my recon of West Fort Braggart.
West Fort Braggart. 1350 hrs.
The barrio. It was like Hell, only with more Mexicans and fewer Irish. Graffiti covered most of the barred, boarded, partially-burned -- yet strangely still open -- businesses. The sidewalks were littered with tortillas and discarded sombreros, or maybe just plain trash. Who could tell in this foreign world?
Luckily I blended in, having decided to wear local attire in order to build trust with the inhabitants. Even more luckily, I already owned a black cowboy hat, shiny dress shirt with rose embroidery, a dinner-plate-sized belt buckle, black jeans, and boots with silver tips. What I wore only to funerals, the latinos wear every day. Added to the outfit was my mercenary's facility with language. Most likely, no one I contacted would even suspect I was American.
I checked my field-expedient GPS -- or crudely-drawn map, as some call it -- and headed for the first address on my list.
1350 West Pine. 1400 hrs.
The house looked like any house in a normal neighborhood, a tidy little one-story with a fresh coat of white paint. A clever disguise if one were an illegal alien attempting to blend in. I knocked on the door.
He was older than me, maybe sixty, and wore a sweater and khakis.
"Good day sir," I said, and then leaned closer, lowering my voice. "It's okay, I'm Mexican, too. I know we all secretly speak English." I pointed out my Stetson and belt buckle.
"Ah. Welcome then, brother." He held up a hand. "Not inside. Just the porch. Welcome to my porch."
I held up my clipboard, the symbol of authority held in awe by all cultures. "I'm here with the Cens--Ceen-sus Bureau. We're making sure everyone, even illegal immigrants--like myself, brother--gets counted. It will help us collect welfare and take jobs from American mercenaries. I mean fat cats."
"Ah, yes. Our plot to take jobs." He winked and nodded. "So what do you need to know?"
"Let's start with name," I said. "Not your street, or 'gang' name. Real name please favor."
"Abraham von Ribbentrop-Sanchez," he said. "And by the way, you are...?"
"Please forgive me," I said, writing his name in the boxes on my form. "I am Señor Don Jefe Ronaldo McFabuloso."
"Your accent," von Ribbentrop-Sanchez said. "You must be from southern Mexico?"
"My family swam here many years ago," I said. "And to my shame, I have picked up the accent of our superiors, the Gringos."
"Ees no problem. It suits you," said von Ribbentrop-Sanchez.
"Great. Next question." I pretended to consult my papers. "You're an illegal alien, aren't you?"
"What? May I see that form?"
"No, uh...That question was later, sorry. Um..." This time I did check the form. "How many people live in this household?"
"Seventeen. No pets."
This guy was dirty, I could smell it. Then I realized I hadn't showered in days. Still, if I could apprehend an actual illegal immigrant and turn him over to ICE, they might just make me an agent, or at least give me my passport back. I just hoped he didn't put up a fight. I had a water gun filled with urine in a hideaway holster behind my back, and I didn't want to have to use it again that day.
"So Señor von Ribbentrop-Sanchez," I said,"these seventeen people, as we'll call them, how are they related to you?"
He thought for a moment. "Well, let's see. Eleven are illegitimate children I've spawned with white women, four are Columbian drug lords, and then there's the wife and me."
My God. This guy was dirtier than I could have imagined. Drug lords. White women. Nailing this guy would make me the most famous unemployed mercenary in the world.
"Look, mi amigo," I said. "I know you're illegal, and ees no problema. Actually, for every illegal immigrant in the household, you get a...free goat. So let's just round up the household and head to the Goat Wagon--" I pointed to my mother's minivan, parked at the curb, "--for some free government goat."
"Mr. McFab," the suspect said, "I believe it is Randall McFab? Did you not appear at a Fort Braggart City Council meeting in October of last year, demanding an ordinance be passed outlawing, as I recall, 'People Talking Funny, Like with Accents and Stuff.'?"
"Uh...Yes, but..." How could he possibly know about that dark day in American politics?
"And do you remember," he continued, "being ridiculed particularly harshly by Councilman von Ribbentrop-Sanchez? Perhaps not, because you were quite obviously drunk at the time."
"I...I..." How could I have failed to identify him? I'm a trained mercenary, a graduate of Patriot Mercenary Training Internet University. Then again, I was drunk when I went before the Council and proposed what I now concede was a slightly racist law. And besides, they do all look alike...
"Seriously, McFab," he went on, "how many von Ribbentrop-Sanchez's do you think there could possibly be?" He shook his head slowly. "I'm going to do now what I wanted to do at the Council meeting," he said. "I'm going to punch you."
I reached for the water gun, but I was too late.
The McFab compound. Sometime the next day.
I lay on the couch in our double-wide, a bag of frozen peas to my forehead. Momma flopped down in the recliner, shaking the trailer, and delivered the latest news.
"Well, honey," she said, "I talked to Sheriff Peeler and he says there ain't much point in pressing charges, on account of that dirty Sanchez fellow is a councilman and the whole town hates you. Oh, and he asked if ya'll is still goin' fishin' at Troutworm Lake next Saturday?"
"Yeah, I reckon," I said. "Did he say dynamite or electric?"