The first time I heard it, I thought nothing of it…nothing. I've been in the newspaper game for more than twenty-seven years and that kind of experience gave a guy an edge but even that didn't prepare me for this.
I'd been beaten, shot at, even stabbed a couple of times over the years but I always got the story. Always. But this one was big. Too big perhaps. Maybe we were ready, maybe not. Either way, it wasn't my call.
None of which filled me with the fear, the trepidation, the anguish of five little words that still haunt me today…
"Is okay. I have cousin."
I felt as though I had been in a plane or a car for weeks sent from town to town, story to story without a break or at least a weekend to catch up. At the very least it was nice to return to a hotel I had been in several times before. Tired beyond words I was more than happy to have Carlos carry my bags to my room.
"Carlos, do you know where Payson is?" I asked as I slid the card, opening the door.
"Sure. It's about an hour and a half north of here, why?"
"I have an interview tomorrow at 10:00. I need a car and some directions," I said, tossing my laptop on the bed.
"I can arrange it for you. 7:00 AM good?"
"That would be great," I said, searching my pocket. "Thanks, Carlos," I said, holding out a five.
"Thanks, but that's not necessary," he answered, waving away my offering.
I shook his hand and he took his leave.
Alone at last, I collapsed on the bed, exhausted.
I lay there, staring at the ceiling, trying to control the personal demons that slowly began to chink away at my armor. I hated the quiet time, hated to be alone. I could only hope tomorrow proved to be less frustrating.
By 7:00 AM the following morning, I stood in the lobby, ready for the day. True to his word, Carlos arrived on time.
"Morning, sir," he said, offering his hand in greeting.
"Morning, Carlos," I returned, giving his hand a quick shake.
I followed him across the lobby and then outside to stand in the morning sun. We made small talk as the minutes slowly ticked away. I glanced at my watch several times, becoming more uncomfortable as each minute slipped by.
Carlos made no outward sign he noticed my discomfort. It was clear I was going to have to say something.
"Ah, here we are," he said cheerfully, raising his right hand to flag down a passing car.
I turned in surprise and disappointment as a faded blue sedan sputtered to a stop in front of us, belching out a small cloud of blue smoke with a sharp bang.
A mournful creak of metal pierced the air as the driver's door swung open.
Dressed in a rumpled black suit, a very large, heavyset man unfolded himself from behind the wheel, tucking his shirt into his slacks as he rounded the front of the car.
He ran his fingers through his hair frantically, trotting up the steps to the landing were we waited.
"Carlos, my friend," the man said loudly in a strong Slavic accent, throwing his arms around the young man, lifting him off the ground. At long last he set him down, patting him heavily on the back.
"Mr. Peter Anderson, this is Dimitri Rurik Petrova," Carlos said cheerfully, patting the large man affectionately on the chest as he spoke.
"Nice to meet you," I responded, offering my hand. "My friends call me Pete."
This close to me, Dimitri seemed even larger than I first thought. His face was square, his skin painfully pocked, but pleasant over all, giving him the appearance of an out of shape football player.
"You are friend to Carlos, you are friend to me. We are friends now. Yes?" he said before grabbing me, hugging me, giving me the same hello he had just given Carlos.
"We're late, Mr. Petrova," I admonished, now irritated with having been handled like a rag doll.
"Call me, Bob," he returned, rocking his weight from heel to toe, swinging his arms playfully.
"Bob? How the hell do you get Bob from Dimitri?" I asked, trying not to laugh.
"Bob is American, yes? I now American, so now am Bob."