Emily, Ashley and Britney parked in front of a fancy-looking restaurant called Rosario’s. They glanced at each other with common concern that they had underdressed. Ashley looked into the car mirror at her jean skirt, white Supreme t-shirt and cotton un-zipped grey hoody.
“I’ll just wait for Scott by the car,” she said.
“Don’t you want to meet the man from ALIAS?” Emily asked. “They’re going to help us find Daddy and bring him home.”
“Em, I do, but I have to meet Scott.”
“Why do you have to meet him so desperately tonight when you could be helping us bring our dad back home from some Mexico place where he could get injured or killed?”
“You don’t understand,” Ashley said. “He was upset with me last time and I don’t want to lose him.”
“So, you’d rather fool around with some college guy, than help your dad?”
“It’s not that simple, Emily,” Ashley’s face turned dark. “You wouldn’t understand. You don’t even get your period yet.”
“I do too.”
“Enough,” Britney stepped in. “Ashley, it’s your life. Do what you want to do. Emily, we need to get in there. Daddy needs us. We’ll do it without her.”
The host, an older gentleman dressed exquisitely in a grey jacket with vest and tie, eyed the two girls as they asked for the table with Ed Ylibtszky and Jennifer Singer. Tentatively, he walked them to the curved booth in the back anyway.
Jennifer hugged the two girls and glanced behind them for Stephanie.
“My mother couldn’t make it,” Emily said, her face flushing bright red.
“She couldn’t make it?” Jennifer asked. “Emily, did you even tell her about this?”
Her heart pounded at how greatly she failed to envision her plan. She opened her mouth to respond, but her voice, lost in fear, gave way and she made little more than a mousy squeak. Britney spoke, surprisingly confidently.
“I’m 18,” she said. “I can represent my father’s interests.”
“The hell you can,” Jennifer said, loudly, standing up and brushing by the girls. “This meeting’s over without your mother.”
She looked back at her boyfriend, who sat next to the tall, dark, muscular man on the other end of the booth.
“Come on Ed,” she said. “I’m sorry Mr. Rojas.”
Ed slid slowly across the booth and stood next to Britney.
“You’re 18?” he asked.
“Ed, don’t even,” Jennifer called back as she moved away from the table.
“Jen,” he said to her across the restaurant. “I called in my contacts and set this up. We should at least have a conversation.”
“What the…” Jennifer returned to the table and hushed her voice. “Do you understand how wrong this is? This is my student.”
“Well, technically,” Emily interjected. “You’re the librarian.”
“And, I go to the high school,” Brittney added.
Ignoring Emily, but clearly annoyed at her comment, she continued with Ed while Mr. Rojas sat, observing the scene.
“I shouldn’t have gotten involved,” Jennifer continued. “I thought I was trying to help. But it was clearly a mistake on my part.”
“Sit down and let’s just talk,” Ed said.
“Are you serious?” Jennifer continued. “No. I won’t be a part of this. You girls should leave.”
“Jenny,” Ed said. “Calm down. Relax.”
“No, Ed,” she raised her voice again, turning to Emily. “You said you’d give me your mother’s number. I trusted you. I just wanted to help.”
“If you want to go, go,” Ed said. “But these girls came here to talk to Delando and I’m here make the connection.”
Jennifer fidgeted and asked Emily for her mother’s phone number.
“Please don’t call her,” Emily said. “She’s under a lot of stress. This would only worry her more.”
“You can call her after we talk,” Britney said. “We’re just talking. We won’t make any decisions.”
At that, the man in the booth stood and extended his hand to Britney.
“We’ll just talk,” he said. “I won’t ask any questions about your family. We don’t even have to speak about your specific case. I’ll just tell you about our organization and what we do. You can take that information back to your mother and she can decide if she’d like to engage with us.”
He looked at Ed and Jennifer. Ed sat back down. Emily and Britney slid next to Mr. Rojas and Jennifer reluctantly sat stiffly next to her boyfriend in the far side of the booth.
“I’ll tell you what I already know,” he said. “Your father came to the country from Mexico as a toddler. He’s been here more than 40 years under the assumed identity of Charles Domo, which he obtained from one of our former agents.”
“My dad, got his fake ID from ALIAS?” Emily asked.
“Chico Dominguez is a former federal information technology worker. He maintained access to security codes and back doors to federal data servers. He joined ALIAS Operations and provided forged identification credentials to your father starting at the age of six when his parents filed their first tax returns. He paid a return visit at age 16 to obtain a Texas state driver’s license and every ten years thereafter to renew his federal passport. With the fake identification, Mr. Domo was able to drive, file a 1099, pay Social Security and even take the family on a handful of vacations out of the country to the Caribbean. He and Stephanie bought a house from her parents, all in her name and paid taxes every year without issue.”
“But, why did ALIAS give my dad illegal papers?” Emily asked.
“Chico was a rogue agent, that we later expelled from our group due to his unethical behavior,” Mr. Rojas said. “Had your father worked directly with us, we likely could have helped avoid his current predicament.”
Ashley and Britney exchanged excited glances as if hearing ghost stories by a camp fire. “Can you help him now?” asked Britney.
“I believe so,” Mr. Rojas said. “But, of course, as Ms. Singer has appropriately indicated, we will need your mother to agree to our program.”
“How does it work?” Emily asked.
“Without getting into details that would be better shared with your mother,” said Mr. Rojas. “It entails eliminating any record of the Charles Domo that you’ve known all your life. I won’t give you the explicit logistics about how we make that happen. You won’t need to know.”
“You eliminate records of our dad?”
“Not exactly,” the dark, wavy-haired agent replied. “We eliminate the record of an individual that never really existed in the first place. Your father should not be held liable for the actions of his parents when he was a small child, unable to even speak the language or understand what was happening to him. And, yes, he was here illegally, but we have to think like compassionate human beings here and try to figure out what’s right on a case-by-case basis.”
“We just want him to come back,” said Britney. “What does it accomplish to remove his fake name from the record books?’
“We eliminate his photo, his fingerprints and his DNA samples,” Mr. Rojas continued. “This washes his past and allows us to help him come back the right way under his real identity of Carlos Dominguez. He gets a new chance at the life he spent 40 years building without the baggage of his past blocking him from moving forward on a legal path to citizenship.”
“I think that’s enough,” Jennifer interrupted.
“So, he could come here and be a legal citizen?” Britney asked. “Just like that?”
“No Brit,” Emily interjected. “If he came here without waiting for the five-year ban to finish, he’d still be in trouble. And then they could send him away forever.”
“That’s why we need your mother here,” Jennifer said, projecting her tension across the table.
“He’d have to immediately apply for asylum,” Emily explained, as Delando Rojas raised an eyebrow at her knowledge. “They’d hold him at the border and he could get a hearing in 45 days.”
“That’s right,” said Delando.
“But they do what’s called metering,” Emily continued, explaining a topic that Britney could barely grasp. “They only let like 20 people apply for the hearing each day. There could be hundreds or thousands of people applying, so it could take years for them to even pick his name. And then, once he gets his hearing, it could take up to another year to get a decision.”
“That’s right,” Delando said, rubbing the tuft of black facial hair above and around his mouth. “Your teacher was right about you. You’ve done your homework. My group handles the logistics of getting him in line and moved up to the front of the metering system. We have a separate team of lawyers that argue the case at the hearing.”
“We have a lawyer,” Britney said. “And, mom says we can barely afford him. He’s not even charging us right now because we don’t have any money coming in with Daddy not making a paycheck.”
“Our services, in this case will be free,” Delando smiled. “We believe that every person on this earth has a right to pursue their dreams and to have happiness in their lives. People will argue that your father, by being here, took an opportunity away from someone else. But we believe this country is strong enough to absorb good, deserving people like your father, who contribute to our society. We believe we would be better served putting our time, effort and tax money into removing the truly bad people in our society, whether they are American citizens or not, to make the most possible opportunity for our country. Publicity we generate through Mr. Ylbitszky’s coverage will be payment enough.”
As they spoke, the well-dressed host, from the front of the restaurant, appeared with an extra chair in hand. He placed it at the outer arc of the booth.
“Your sixth guest has arrived,” he said, politely. “Enjoy your meal.”
From behind him, as he moved toward the front of the restaurant, Ashley’s grey Zumiez sweatshirt emerged, set against the backdrop of the dark woodwork, cream-colored table cloths and dim, soothing lighting.
“I sent Scott away,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “You’re right, Emily. Daddy’s more important.”