by Harrison Kim
Olfato Cabron stood sniffing the air, his huge acne-scarred nose twitching a meter in front of Marco Modoyeb, President of the Republic of Mozo. After six years working at the main airport as chief human detector of illegal substances, Cabron had been drafted into Modoyeb’s security team. He could detect honey on the wind better than a black bear. He could smell a leaf of marijuana beneath ten heavily used mattresses. From his upstairs patio, he ascertained the oily scent of neighbourhood rodents.
Cabron tolerated a lot of things, but he hated rats. His wife Elena lived like a rat now, too, under what the President called “house protection.” Cabron knew that was a euphemism for “hostage.” Should he tell a lie, or disturb the increasingly paranoid leader, Elena would be helicoptered above the vast desert to the north of the tiny Republic, and dropped into the burning sands.
“Your new job suits you,” said Elena, a small-bodied, big-haired psychiatrist. “You can split aspects of your psyche apart, the way you separate yourself from what you scent.”
“I’ve rehearsed for this job many a time; I knew Modoyeb would summon me.” Cabron passed her a red rose he had plucked from the garden. “The scent of this flower is strong, but I am not affected. I am affected only when I think of us.”
Elena nodded, smiled. “I will be your second shadow. Soon we will all be in the light.”
Cabron thought Elena overly optimistic. She always had a fixed smile on her face these days, always seemed to be analyzing. He couldn’t sniff anything intense around her except for that strong lavender perfume.
Later at the Presidential palace, the newly hired smell-detecting expert stuck his face over a five-gallon bucket of tomato bisque. “Yes, said Cabron. “There’s some kind of foreign material in this soup. It smells like gunpowder.”
President Modoyeb clapped his bony knees. “Haha, wow, I knew it!” He motioned to his Vice-President, Domingues Hawkins. “Reach your hand in there and pull out what you find!”
Dapper, fuzzy-moustached Hawkins looked over the bisque, then hesitated.
“He’ll ruin his suit,” Olfato protested. “At least take off that beautiful tweed blazer.”
Hawkins smiled sheepishly, removed his jacket, then dipped his slender arm in up to the shoulder and pulled a 9mm Browning pistol from the hot red sludge. “Hold that gun high, lovely Hawkins!” yelled the hairy-necked President. “This Cabron detector is the real thing. Aren’t you, Cabron?
“Yes, my leader,” Olfato nodded. “I can sniff out any weakness, any poison, anywhere.”
The long-armed leader reached across the table and gave his man a crushing handshake. “You have passed the test. You are hired!” the dictator said. “I work by instinct. You value family. Hawkins and I are your family now. You will be my loyal human dogbodyguard!”
Hawkins placed the soupy gun down on the table. “May I go wash my arm?” he pleaded to Modoyeb, who waved his many-ringed hand at the Vice-President. Hawkins ran off, warm bisque dripping from his elbow.
Modoyeb showed Cabron a velcro-backed badge the shape and size of a nostril ring. “This is your official promotion!” He laughed, showing the huge red underside of his inner mouth, put his narrow, whiskery face close to Cabron’s and stuck the badge on the dogbodyguard’s starched white shirt, right above his heart.
Olfato breathed in deeply. He smelled rotting back bacon in Modoyeb’s long, ribbon-braided beard. He scented crusty, puke-smelling socks and inhaled stale wine breath from the dictator’s mouth. He detected that Modoyeb’s brain gave off a sweet sticky jam odour. A jam smell around the brain could only mean extremely high blood pressure due to partially blocked arteries from a precariously clinging clot.
Over the next month, he breathed over Modoyeb’s mail, smelling for bombs. He checked out the President’s wine for poison. He sniffed all over incoming guests for cocaine and outgoing ones for silverware. Always agreeable, always polite. “You know what I like, Olfato,” Modoyeb grinned. “Total efficiency.”
“I want to stay on the President’s good side,” he told Elena.
“That’s the plan,” she encouraged. “Find out his weaknesses, and exploit them.” She smiled. “As a psychiatrist, I learned a lot about weaknesses. They can really mess you up.”
“Do I have any weaknesses, Elena?” Cabron asked his wife.
“Your strength is in your nose,” she replied. “And often maybe you overlook the evidence of your other senses.”
“I don’t think so,” Cabron chuckled. “Which sense do you think is my weakest?”
Elena paused for a moment. “Perhaps your sixth sense,” she replied. “Intuition.”
Cabron found out that the President craved exotic cheese. “Here’s some excellent Brie I bought at the House of Queso today,” he offered. “You might enjoy it, my leader. It was flown in specially for you.”
“This Cabron knows French food,” Modoyeb joked, raising his overflowing glass of Tuscan red. “But you’d better try it first.” Then he made an order to jail some more opponents. “It’s stressful making sure people aren’t trying to kill me. I’m getting bad headaches every day.” He regarded his human dogbodyguard as some of his wine splashed on the floor. “Anything you can recommend?”
“Well, I’m no doctor,” answered Olfato, “but along with your wine, a triple dose of anti-inflammatory medication is great for all pains. Make sure you take them three times every day to stop problems from happening.”
“Hahaha,” Modoyeb winked at Vice-President Hawkins, who was kneeling nearby with a cloth, wiping up the President’s wasted wine from the teak floor. “This guy’s a regular medical specialist.”
Hawkins raised his head. “He is in fact trained as a medical doctor.”
Modoyeb laughed. He ordered Cabron to phone Mozo City pharmacy immediately for the medication.
A few days later, a crazed activist somehow made it by inner security as the President was quaffing his morning whiskey in the Italian garden behind the palace. The long-haired lunatic lunged for Modoyeb as the dictator was talking about extrajudicial justice with Robert Mono, the head of the army. “You are starving my people!” the man yelled.
Cabron leaped forward and shoved the screamer into the arms of the security team. They hauled him away to the seclusion cellars under the Presidential palace.
“Can we go easy on the guy?” said Cabron. “I think he’s a bit addled.”
“We’ll feed him wine and cheese til he bursts!” Modoyeb chuckled. He looked closely at his man.
“I almost trust you,” he winked. “But not enough to release your wife!” He laughed uproariously and punched Olfato on the shoulder. “You not only give good food and medical advice, you have saved me from a jab in the nose.” He shook his wiry arms. “I could have kicked his ass, but you were faster!”
“Thanks,” said Cabron. “With all due respect, I would suggest you try boxing. Not that you can’t defend yourself, but it would improve your game in these situations. You are a strong man, and boxing should make you faster.”
“That’s a very macho idea,” Modoyeb grinned. “You have a good track record. Since I followed your headache advice, the pain has disappeared!”
“I’m sure you’ll pulverize your opponent,” Cabron said. “I’d also recommend you take a few blows to the head area yourself,” he added, “just to build up mental resistance.”
“A man becomes strong by facing his fears.” Modoyeb stroked his beard and popped another piece of Brie and a number of pills into his mouth. “I will hire the best boxer in Mozo City.”
A few days later, Mozo middleweight Arturo Sanchez became the President’s sparring partner. At first, he didn’t want to hit his leader. Modoyeb insisted, though. “It will toughen me up. Besides, if you don’t, I’ll have your family put under house arrest!”
Sanchez punched lightly at first. Modoyeb kept taunting and saying, “Is that your best shot, pussy?” Sanchez thought of his wife and kids and whacked the President a few times right in the middle of his forehead.
Modoyeb staggered and a little blood trickled from his nose, over his lips and down his beard.
“I’m sorry, my leader!” Sanchez cried.
Modoyeb shook his head. “You bastard!” he croaked. “Now I get to smash you, asshole,” and he moved forward, peppering the boxer with blows. Many missed even though Sanchez leaned into them. “Stay still!” the President bellowed, and Sanchez said “I am, Mr. President, I am.”
“I’m very tired,” the President stated that evening. “This whole leader thing tenses me out. I need to obtain some snooze time.” He crashed on his Presidential couch, snored for thirteen hours. The next day, he rocked back and forth holding his head. “This headache’s so bad!”
“Here’s the pill package,” said Cabron. “Take as many as you can.” The leader popped ten. He stood up, “Wow, am I dizzy! Hawkins, check my Brie for poison!”
“We haven’t detected anything but French perfume on the wrapping,” Hawkins said. He adjusted the leader’s socks, which were stuck in his pant legs. “Here. Freedom from creases might help your tension.”
Soon the President was back to normal, signing extrajudicial justice warrants. He grinned at the Vice-President. “Now I feel great! Find me some more cheese!”
That night, Cabron consulted Elena. “I’ve tried the Brie, the anti-inflammatories, and now the boxer,” he said. “I think we’ll soon reach our goal.”
Elena shook her head. “I hope you are right because I can’t hang on much longer like this.” She sighed. “I’ve been cooped up in this house-arrest prison for three months now, and you are still a slave to the likes of Modoyeb!”
The next morning, the dictator did not emerge from his bedroom. When the servant came to bring him his morning coffee, he found Modoyeb lying half on and half off the bed, white and stiff as a drained pig. The autopsy disclosed a massive stroke.
“The arteries would have exploded sooner or later,” said the coroner. “Just needed something to set them off. Must’ve been the job stress.”
Vice-President Hawkins, now interim President, called for Cabron. “I remember you were kind to me after I had to put my arm in the soup.” he said.
Cabron fingered his nostril ring badge. “It was an honour to mention your suit.”
Hawkins nodded, and brushed away some food from the side of his mouth. He’d already been snacking on Modoyeb’s leftover Brie.
“My family is still under house arrest,” said Cabron.
“Well,” said Hawkins, “I see what happened to our great leader. So, if I hire you, it might be best to release your perfume-loving wife.” He laughed, a high, giggling sound.
“How about that fellow who tried to attack the President the other day?” asked Cabron. “He seemed to have a legitimate complaint.”
Hawkins stopped giggling. He adjusted a button on his tweed jacket. “I want you to execute him,” said Hawkins. “Personally.”
“I can’t do that,” Cabron took a few steps back. “It’s not in my job description. Besides, I’ve never killed anyone before.”
Hawkins smiled. “It’s to prove your loyalty. If you do this, you receive a higher reward. If you don’t, well, let’s say all won’t go well with your Elena.” He put both hands up to his face, and giggled some more. “You have a very nice wife,” he said. Then he took out a monocle and held it to his left eye. “I know you gave our leader a Brie addiction to raise his cholesterol.”
Cabron sniffed the air. “Brie addiction?” He didn’t smell anything weak from Hawkins. Nothing but patchouli and capuccino. He sniffed again. “Was that lavender?” he asked himself.
“And I know that anti-inflammatory pills can weaken arteries.” the Hawkins continued. Cabron tried to smile. “You hired that boxer to hit Modoyeb in the head,” Hawkins finished. “You must’ve known about his brain-clot infirmity.”
“That’s crazy!” Cabron thought of his wife again. He smelled something new, his own fear, a deep deodorant-covered emanation billowing from under his arms. “It’s all completely crazy.”
“Bring in the prisoner,” said Hawkins. Lance Zeel, the assistant bodyguard, flung the young activist towards Cabron.
The boy stank like eggs and sourdough toast. “Shoot him in the head,” said Hawkins, and Lance placed a gun on the table. “Careful, it’s loaded,” the bodyguard muttered.
Cabron picked up the gun, hands trembling so hard he dropped it. Everyone jumped back, but the thing didn’t go off. Cabron stared at the young man’s face, blurry and distorted. He couldn’t smell anything but steel from the gun. It’s a matter of survival, he thought. He lifted up the gun and pointed it at the activist’s face.
The young man bowed his long-haired head. “No! No!” he screamed.
Cabron saw thin patches in the white scalp. The poor guy would be bald in ten years. Cabron pressed the trigger of the gun. Click. He pressed it again.
“It isn’t loaded,” Cabron said.
“Thank God,” gasped the activist.
“Shut the hell up.” Lance Zeel’s rock-hard arms grabbed the skinny youth by the neck and dragged him out of the room, “You’ll be executed at sunrise tomorrow anyway,” he yelled to the unfortunate activist.
Hawkins nodded to Cabron. “Now it’s just the two of us. You have proved your loyalty: to me or to your family, it doesn’t make any difference.” He smoothed his hands against his slender thighs and spoke in a high, singsong voice. “I am going to make you the new President.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you think Modoyeb was a real leader?” Hawkins laughed, did a circular dance around the room, tapping his foot for emphasis on every adjective that followed. “He was stupid, loud, and ignorant, but he did what I wanted, and he looked good on TV. Sure, I let him order me around in a superficial sense; he loved it. Kept him feeling superior. But he’s dead, and you basically killed him, Cabron. So, you’re going to take his place.”
“I’m not Presidential material.”
“You don’t have to be. You look good in a suit or camouflage. Folks like a big nose on a leader. Everyone knows you as the man who saved the President’s life. Now you’re just moving on up.”
Cabron sniffed the air. Hawkins smelled like hair gel, really, but a superior hair gel.
“And if I don’t do it?”
Hawkins sighed. “Yeah, yeah, we’ll have to drop your wife in the desert. From a helicopter. If you accept my Presidential offer, she’ll be treated like a Queen.” He sang part of the Mozo national anthem: “The lights in the sky are loyal, they sparkle for our land.” Then he patted Cabron on the arm and said, “You are the most loyal of all. You love your Elena, don’t you?”
He began his high-pitched giggling again, before opening the doors and letting in Lance Zeel and some other soldiers. “I’m going to make Olfato here the next head honcho,” he said. “Your head bodyguard will become the new President of Mozo!”
Lance raised his arm in the air in a power salute. “So great,” he said. “Now we can order in all the Brie we want.”
Cabron walked slowly back to Elena that night. As she had said, he was indeed an expert at compartmentalizing his personality. “I will create a separate self for my new position,” he murmured to the moon. He plucked another red rose from the bush beside their flat. “It’s still fresh,” he thought. “Elena will like this one.”
He put his giant nose inside the flower and inhaled. He stared at his dark reflection in the window glass. “Hello, Mr. President. Will the sun shine on you tomorrow? Or is this all a big, stinky joke?”
He rang the doorbell and stood at the door waiting for his wife. He planned to tell her directly. Soon they would be together in the light. While he was waiting, a family of rats skittered across the wooden sidewalk then slipped between its cracks and disappeared.
“I hate those vermin!” Cabron muttered. He took a look in the window, to see if Elena was coming. Inside, he saw her holding onto something, back by the far wall of the living room. That something moved. Cabron saw the edge of a tweed jacket, he smelled hair gel. He banged his head against the window, then reeled back. He pushed his head forward again. It couldn’t be true. Elena leaned there in the arms of Vice-President Hawkins.
Cabron began pounding on the door as hard as he could. After a while, it opened. “Hey,” Elena stage-whispered. “There’s nothing to make such a noise about.”
“That was you!” Cabron yelled. “There with Hawkins!”
His nose filled with the scent of lavender. He stood at the doorway as the very purpose and meaning of his life vanished. Then he swallowed, stepped back into the night.
“You’re mad!” Elena shouted. “There’s no one here!”
“No one?” Cabron paused a minute, collected his thoughts. Then he intoned from the darkness. “There is you. And I. The big news is, I am the new President.”
Cabron sniffed the air again, and laughed. Just a hint of warm bisque on the wind. Maybe, all those days ago, some of that tweed jacket did find itself in the soup. “This new President will protect you,” he said. “You are the one who gives meaning to his life.”
“My very best congratulations!” exclaimed Elena. Both of them stood there breathing in the darkness, looking at each other. Then the President-to-be moved forward to embrace his wife. As he pushed his arms around Elena’s shoulders, Cabron smelled hair gel. He vowed right then and there to be the most cunning and ruthless leader Mozo had ever known.
Copyright © 2019 by Harrison Kim