A tantalizing message from The Mexican arrives in the inbox of America's Young Theologian:
Though sounding like a typical birthday invite, to trained ears this is a call for help. Only three obstacles stand between AYT and a Texas birthday party: 3 days, 1400 miles, and the need for secrecy. The reunification of the NAFTA Crime Syndicate, dissolved temporarily after operations in Germany, is too tempting, an opportunity too important to disregard. Since The Mexican and AYT had been photographed together in Philadelphia in November, the risks of contacting The Mexican directly are too high. AYT places a phone call to "The Crazy Canuck," an expert in procuring transportation and a safe house. All logistics point toward a successful operation.
Turning 27 and having lived in the Republic for over 3 years. It's time for a Lone Star Party. Put on your boots, Wranglers, and Stetsons and come on over. There will be plenty of Lone Star tall boys and various other beverages. We will be grilling before hand, so come by early and then hang out until the morning hours.
Operation Lone Star begins with a commercial flight from Washington Dulles to Houston's George Bush Intercontinental. An "intercontinental" airport? One gets the feeling Texas is compensating for something. Regardless, the NAFTA Crime Syndicate involves three international characters, but it seems fitting that an "intercontinental" airport would bring them together since the long arms of the NAFTACS stretch well beyond North America. AYT arrives a day in advance under dark skies; a noticeable chill takes hold of this Texas oil town.
AYT steps unobserved into the waiting automobile driven by The Crazy Canuck. The first order of business is food, and then shelter for the night. Refreshed by food and friend, AYT and his Canadian counterpart review the plans for the following morning.
The Mexican, unsuspecting, has been lured into a 08:00 meeting by a duplicitous tale woven by The Crazy Canuck. He thinks a high school friend of The Canuck is arriving to discuss the study of religion at Rice University, where The Mexican happily resides in the guise of a graduate student. "Steve," the mythical high school friend, apparently has family in Houston and a busy schedule. The Mexican acquiesces to this early morning interruption.
After a night of sleep (under a heater that overcompensated for the chilled Texas night), The Canuck and AYT depart for their rendezvous. The Canuck enters Empire Cafe, a once-gritty Montrose grotto that now boasts a funky vibe, flanked by AYT. Within Empire Cafe, surrounded by mustard colored walls and provocative portraits, The Mexican rises from his wooden table. Spotting AYT's signature jacket, The Mexican's gaze quickly morphs from early morning malaise into disbelief and amazement. With that, the first objective of Operation Lone Star is accomplished; The NAFTA Crime Syndicate is reunited.
Now the combined powers of the NAFTA Crime Syndicate could focus on the mission at hand: properly celebrating a 27th birthday. All schedules and bets are off, the mission is on.
The threesome coordinates watches and agrees to meet at 11:30a on Rice University's campus at the underground bar Valhalla (Old Norse Valhöll, "Hall of the slain"). The morning passes and all three make their way to a particular door beneath Keck Hall's front steps.
What follows can be described best through images:
The details of Valhalla cannot be fully recounted, but it is worth noting that the price of a Lone Star draft is 85¢. There are Valhalla characters that deserve their own descriptions. For example, there's the crazy-haired old man that walks in and immediately walks behind the bar to procure a pitcher of beer and then places it in the microwave so as to commence with chugging practice. Such details would supply narrative texture, but not plot development. The real question is: Will AYT's four beers before 2pm compromise Operation Lone Star?
[A special thanks at this point goes out to The Canuck for picking up AYT's Valhalla tab.]
It's true that this cellared rendezvous probably was the cause of AYT's nap, but by 8pm the beer had been obtained—Lone Star tall boys, cans, and bottles, the charcoal started, music selected, speakers arranged, and boots and hats on.
They say that party is a success if there are friends and good cheer, a little dancing and wrestling, and plenty of beer.
and Operation Lone Star too,
We salute The Mexican,
Happy Birthday to you!