He leaned against the Isuzu Trooper and watched as the Beechcraft King Air 350 circled the airport before making its approach. He walked toward the twin engine plane as it taxied to the terminal. The OAir ground crew hurried to the cargo bay of the aircraft to remove the luggage. Ballencek looked up into the aircraft when the ramp lowered.
William Harman was appeared first at the door and surveyed the small airport. Ballencek greeted him as he stepped down the stairs. "How you doin'?" He reached his hand to Harman.
Harman shook Ballencek's hand. "Long, tiring trip. But doin' good." He examined the garishly dressed man, with a gun, in front of him. "Who are you?"
"I'm Larry." He grinned.
"Ok." Harman said suspiciously. "Larry who?"
"Ballencek. Larry Ballencek. I'm your Chief of Staff and Security Officer."
Harman nodded. "Very good. Do you have any ID?"
"Oh, yes. Of course." Ballencek patted his shirt pocket. Not there. "Never can be too sure." He patted the back pockets of his jeans. Nope. He crossed his arms, put a finger to his lips, and looked upward. "If I were a wallet where would I be?" His face lit up with revelation. "Oh! Yeah!" He kneeled to roll up a pant leg and revealed an ankle holster with a small gun. He rolled down the sock and produced a wallet.
Harman picked through the wallet until he found what he was looking for… a Passport Card issued by the US government. He examined the identification and compared the picture to the man standing in front of him. “Good to meet you, Lt. Ballencek.” He returned the wallet to the Chief Of Staff.
Ballencek shoved the wallet into his back pocket. “A pleasure. Mr. Ambassador… or are you who you say you are?” He asked sternly. Ballencek adopted a defensive stance with his hands on his hips.
Harman handed his wallet to Ballencek, who examined it questionably for a few moment before finding Harman’s driver’s license. He looked up from the license, comparing faces, looked down again, and stretched out his arm. “I should have brought my glasses.” Ballencek squinted at the license then at Harman. “Yep, you’re legit.”
He handed the wallet and driver’s license to Harman. “Uh huh,” he agreed.
“Hey, Dad! What’s taking so long?” A teen yelled from inside the plane.
The Ambassador turned back to the plane. “We’re just verifying our identities.”
The teen poked his head out the door. “Are you done yet? Mom and I are ready to get out of this plane.
Harman motioned for his son to step down, “Come on out.” He pointed toward the Security Officer, “This is Lt. Larry Ballencek. Lt., this is my son, Bill Jr.”
Ballencek reached out to shake the young man’s hand, “Good to meet you Billy.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Sure, Junior.” He grinned.
“Don’t call me that either.”
Harman’s wife made her way down the steps. She seemed in good spirits, despite being slightly weary from the long trip. She put out her hand to Ballencek’s “I’m Jennifer Harman, Lt. Ballencek. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Ballencek shook her hand, “The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Harman.”
The ground crew had piled the luggage on the tarmac next to the Beechcraft. “I guess we should get movin’” Ballencek walked to the luggage and grabbed a suitcase and a box. The box rattled.”
“I’ll get that,” Bill Jr declared.
“Sure,” Ballencek said. “What is it?”
“It’s mine.” Bill said flatly.
“Ohhhkaaaay,” Ballencek said as he handed the box to the teen. He, Harman, and Jennifer picked up the rest of the luggage and placed it into the back of the Trooper.
Harman opened a rear seat door for his wife as Bill jumped into the seat next to her. Ballencek opened the driver’s door and draped an arm over the top with a foot on the running board. “All set?”
Harman slid into the front passenger seat and nodded, “We’re set, Lt.”
“Excellent,” Ballencek gave a thumbs up, flopped into the driver’s seat, and buckled in. “Let’s rock this joint.” He turned the key in the ignition and the engine struggled to life.
“Welcome to Oslea.”
The SUV with the four American citizens bounced along two-lane highway. Even though he was securely buckled, Harman held onto the strap by the door to keep from hitting his head on the ceiling. “How long have you been here?” He shouted over the road noise.
Ballencek made a sharp turn to dodge a large pothole in the road. “’Bout six years. I asked for a new duty station a couple years ago, but they said I was best suited here.”
Jennifer leaned toward the center of the vehicle so she wouldn’t lose her center of gravity during another sharp turn. “What happened to the previous ambassador?” She asked.
“Which one? We’ve had five since I’ve been here.”
“The most recent would be a good start.” She offered.
A sign next to the road read “The Shining Capital City of Oslea” on the top line. The second line read “Dennado.” The population was reported on the third line “76,583.”
“That would be Mr. Cannebere,” the Security Officer explained. “He was here for about four months. One day he said to me ‘Lar,’ he called me ‘Lar.’ ‘Lar,’ he said ‘there should be some sort of crazy pay for this assignment.’ Then he threw his clothes into a suitcase and sat at the airport for the next scheduled the flight out.”
“How long was that?” Bill asked.
“Two days.” Ballencek noted. “We don’t have a lot of flights here.”
Jennifer offered “That doesn’t sound very promising, Bill.”
Harman agreed, “No it doesn’t. Did he have any other reasons for leaving so abruptly?”
Ballencek shrugged his shoulders, “Nope. He was quite anxious to leave. Didn’t even take his tooth brush.”
“Yuck.” Bill Jr. said.
“Don’t worry,” Ballencek added. “We got some new toothbrushes.”
Jennifer was relieved, “That’s good to know.”
The growth of palm trees thinned out as the residential neighborhoods thickened. “How many people live on Oslea?” Harman asked.
“About a million,” Ballencek replied. “Dennado is the largest city with about a third of the island population.”
“How about Gamers?” Bill asked hopefully. “Any Gamers?”
Ballencek thought for a moment. “We have the usual. Some soccer, some basketball, we have a rugby team.”
“No,” the teen said impatiently, “Games… you know… Games.”
“Ah, yes!.” A light went on in Ballencek’s head. “We have a world champion checkers team.”
Bill bonked his head against the window and rolled his eyes. “That’s not what I mean.” He muttered.
Ballenck stopped in front of a larger than normal ranch style house. It was surrounded by a four foot brick wall with chain link fencing above the bricks and chicken wire on top. “We’re here,” he announced.
Jennifer leaned up in the Trooper to look over the wall. “This is the residence?” she asked.
The Security Officer opened the door and stepped out of the vehicle. “Yes, ma’am. And the Embassy also.”
“I thought the Embassy might be a bit larger,” Harman said. “And a little more office-looking.”
Ballencek stepped to the gate and entered his security code into the terminal box. “We had to put some chicken wire on top of the fencing a couple years ago, but this Embassy has been quite sufficient for quite a while.”
The gate slid left as Ballencek made his way back the vehicle and plopped into the driver’s seat. He guided the Trooper through the entrance and into the carport. The gate closed behind them. Ballencek opened his door and bumped it into the wall of the building. “Oops.” He closed the door and backed the SUV out of the carport. Once in the driveway he could open his door wide enough to get out. The Harmans also exited the vehicle and started removing their luggage with Ballencek’s help.
Ladened with luggage, the three newcomers took stock of the surroundings in their new home. Jennifer looked around the front room of the building. “It’s larger than it looks from the outside.”
Ballencek nodded in agreement, “We’ve hosted many shindigs here. This can be a hoppin’ place.”
“Might have to change the décor to something a bit brighter,” she said as she inspected a window and its curtain. “Are there any good shopping places nearby?”
“Well…” he started. “There’s O-Mart.”
“Kind of like WalMart,” he explained. “But smaller.”
“How much smaller?” Jennifer asked.
A younger woman entered the main room from the interior of the building. She shook the Ambassador’s hand. “Hi! I’m Denise.” She then shook Jennifer’s hand. “I have to go. Have a good day.” Denise walked briskly out the front door.
Harman’s hand was still raised. He was slightly puzzled. “Who was that?”
Ballencek picked up a suitcase. “That’s Denise. She’s your Administrative Assistant.”
“She was cute,” the teen offered.
His father admonished him, “Bill, be polite and respectful.”
The young man rolled his eyes, but nodded.
“She was in a bit of a hurry to leave,” Jennifer observed.
“She’s like that a lot,” Ballencek said. He turned when there was a knock at the door. “Hiya, Vinnie!”
“Good day, Mr. Ballencek.” Vinnie said. “May I come in?”
“Of course.” Ballencek opened the door. A middle aged Indian man with thinning hair entered the room. He was wearing an expensive business suit and sneakers.
He squinted at Harman “You are the new Ambassador?”
“I am.” Harman confirmed and shook the man’s hand.
“Very good. I am Vinod Ramesh. I am the Oslea Bureau Manager for the India Gleaner.” Ramesh handed Harman a business card after they shook hands.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Ramesh.” Harman put the card into his shirt pocket.
“Would it be possible to use your computer to send an email, Mr. Ambassador?” The reporter asked.
Harman shrugged his shoulders, “Why do you need to use ours?”
“The computer at my office broke and we haven’t had a chance to repair or replace it yet.” Ramesh explained. “I need to send my weekly report back to the Gleaner.”
“I suppose.” Harman said. “Do you mind if I see what’s in your report?”
Ramesh reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and produced a sheet of paper. He unfolded it and gave it to Harman. The Ambassador scanned the document for a moment then handed it back to the reporter. “I’m sorry, I don’t read Hindi. Could you translate it for me?”
“Certainly,” he said as he retrieved the letter. He stretched out his arm to read the handwritten note. “’Dear Brother,’ my brother is the editor. ‘Dear Brother, I received the cookies your wife made. They were delicious.’”
Harman folded his arms over his chest and looked at the man skeptically, “Uh huh.”
“’Nothing happening this week in Oslea. Regards, Vinod.’”
Harman gestured in surprise, “’Nothing happening’? What about me? I’m the new U.S. Ambassador.”
Ramesh dismissed the comment with a wave, “That’s not news.” He said. “We get a new one every few months.”
Jennifer raised her hand to her mouth to suppress a coughed laugh.
“I guess we shouldn’t unpack our bags.” The son suggested.