Tom Benson Creative Writer and Artist
Tom Benson           Creative Writer                                      and Artist

Chapter 2 - Faraway Places

Wednesday, 11th August 2010

England, United Kingdom.

Pete started his day with a one-mile run to the local gym, spent one hour working-out, then headed back ready to start writing. His daily exercise regime helped to relax his body and prepare his mind for whatever lay ahead.

It had taken many hours of reading articles and reports by scientists resident in Central America, before he cut his search down to Panama. He thought that once he’d restricted himself to a country and then a region, it would help to simplify the task, but he hadn’t counted on the number of specialists who had settled in that part of the world.

He felt reassured that he had chosen a good base for his project. Whichever specialist he worked with would be equally important. He didn’t have the opportunity to line up all the likely candidates and interview them, so he compiled a list of possible contacts.

Something he’d noted early was that a lot of the scientists used their name and initials but made no mention of whether they were male or female. It occurred to him that this could be for two main reasons; a) that there were still those who didn’t treat female scientists as seriously as their male colleagues, or, b) there was the issue of the wrong type of people taking an interest in the author of the various studies.

Pete decided to try for somebody whose qualifications were backed by an over-riding interest in, and ability to talk about, the subject. He knew from his interviewing experience, there were plenty of scientists who were able to back their qualifications with results, but had difficulty in a one-to-one situation.

Having read magazine articles, Pete made a list of six names to work through, all eminently qualified, living and working in Panama. He sent the same brief email to each of them. Knowing that the word journalist was unsavoury to some, he was subtle and brief in his message. Still, he read about each again before sending it.

Dr. D. Robertson was an authority on Marine Biology. In his free time however, it seemed he was keen on golf. His fixation with the sport was highlighted in magazine interviews he had given. Pete had nothing against golfers, but knew he might find it hard to capture the man’s interest sufficiently. He would still contact him.

Dr. R. J. Petulengro was a star in the field, but was a woman whose main interest was her two young children. They would be fun to be around no doubt, but could prove to be a distraction to their mother. Pete might have to take the chance, but he still had options.

Dr. S. L. Zarenski seemed like a good bet and had spent time with Greenearth in the Indian Ocean and off the southeast coast of Africa. He had also worked widely in South America. He was a single man in his 40’s and looked ideal, ready for anything.

Dr. G. Banderas also appeared to fit the bill and Pete was impressed by the use of humour in the written pieces he’d found. This particular scientist was listed as ‘linked to conservation activists’. He made a mental note. Pete liked those who fought for a cause. Activists, as he was aware, were passionate about their subject. He also liked humour.

Dr. H. Frazer was another for the short list. Like Dr. Banderas, this person was highly regarded by peers. Dr. Frazer was a woman and Pete reminded himself that the priority was not the gender, but the knowledge and the ability to pass it on and guide him. This particular scientist was spending a few years as a lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Panama City.

Dr. K. Hendrikson was nicknamed, ‘The Explorer’. He was apparently as likely to be in the frozen wastes of the Arctic as he was to be in an Amazonian jungle, but he was a top scientist and would be an excellent sidekick for Pete’s mission.

Whilst he waited for responses, he read as much as possible about the region and where best to go, to engage with the surroundings. He made notes as always, and as he did, reminded himself that whoever his specialist was, he should ask their opinion on location. The country was fantastic, but the more he read, the more convinced he became, that there was more to it than met the eye.

He would have to be wary, armed with the knowledge that he was going to a place where corruption was rife. As much as he wanted the story, he hoped to avoid the more dangerous aspects of investigative journalism. Deep down he knew though, that he would follow the trail, whatever the risks. He was a professional.

*

Thursday, 12th August 2010

Panama, Central America.

Before settling into the day’s routine, Gloria took the opportunity to check her Inbox. There was one email and only the subject prevented it from going straight to the Spam folder.

Date: 11 August 2010, 11:00

Subject: Scientific Liaison

From: Pete Harris

To: G. Banderas

Dear Dr. Banderas

I am a Writer who will be visiting Central America before the end of this year. The aims of the assignment are listed on the attached information sheet. If you think you would be able to assist in any way with this, I would be most grateful of an early reply.

Regards,

Pete Harris

She read the email again before opening and reading the attachment twice, then closed both.

It was mid-afternoon and long after the most recent storm when the scientist caught her student glance at her. The youngster had looked sideways and then back to her workbench.

“Go on,” Gloria said, “out with it, young lady.”

“It’s nothing,” the girl lied. She’d been about to ask about the businessman, Charles Morgan. He was rich, handsome, and keen on Gloria. His interest had been made clear during a visit some months earlier. Bonita thought they would make a great couple, but then, what did she really know about her boss’s emotional or physical needs.

Mr. Morgan had spent a week in the region with the locally respected Marine Biologist acting as his tour guide. He had come to the area with a formal letter from a local politician who had agreed to allow the American to conduct a survey with a view to possible development.

Minor roads were to be improved between the tiny bay area of Portillo and the local town of Lamarosa, a few kilometres along the coast. The small pier would be modernised and a factory was proposed that would provide work for many locals. It would mean a serious injection of cash into the local economy.

Bonita had taken a shine to the big American’s rugged good looks and his confident bearing. She was certain that her boss had also been impressed by what she’d seen. The difference was that Gloria had spent a week driving around the coast roads, countryside and jungle with the man, but had said little about it on her return.

As she hung up the clipboard between the others Bonita announced, “All temperature checks completed,” then she stole a look at her boss, just as she’d done earlier.

“Thank you,” Gloria said. “Did you deal with the turtle eggs?”

“All done,” was the instant reply. Then the girl took two paces forward to stand with the small of her back against the bench. Before she spoke again, she turned to watch her boss’s expression, and said, “He’s back, you know.”

Gloria wrote a series of figures in the logbook. Without looking up, she traced her right forefinger down the page and said with no apparent interest, “Who is back?”

“Your hunk is back, of course.”

“Right,” Gloria said, realising where the conversation might be going, “which hunk of mine would that be?” She still didn’t look up.

“Charles Morgan.” Bonita said quietly and watched for a reaction.

Gloria stopped writing for a moment, glanced up, then finished off the entry, “The big city businessman is in our little backwater?” She continued to act nonplussed.

“Is that we he called our town?”

“That’s what he called our region!” She forced herself to pause, before looking up and asking, “so how do you know he’s back?”

“Well, as you know, he’s sort of hard to miss. I saw him parking and getting out of a red Chevy pick-up this morning.” She continued to observe her boss, “Yes, it was him alright, cropped dark hair, deep tan, all big, and mean. He looked kind of dishy in his sleeveless safari jacket, khaki shorts, and leather sandals.”

“Bonita!” Gloria said sharply, looking up again, “The man is nearly 50 years of age.”

“It didn’t seem to bother you at Mickey’s party a couple of months ago. He was all over you.”

“I’m glad you got that right, my girl,” she said with a grin. “He was all over me. I was not all over him and there is a considerable difference as one day, you will surely find out. That is quite apart from the fact that you are less than half his age.” She paused. “Anyway, that party was three months ago.” She winced after clarifying the time lapse.

“Well, I remember you let him kiss you goodnight, you can’t deny that,” she raised an eyebrow, “and that was making one or two of your local admirers very jealous.”

“Perhaps I did let him kiss me goodnight,” Gloria capitulated, “but it wasn’t to make anybody jealous,” she laughed, “and I didn’t invite him back for coffee, before you ask.”

“So you guys really didn’t get it on then?”

“No, we did not get it on.” Gloria paused and stared out of the window as she continued, “he asked me to escort him around the region whilst he was here. His visit culminated with him being invited to Mickey’s party where he obviously thought we were getting on better than we were.”

“He left after that night, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” the older woman stared out of the window again, not seeing the ocean that she loved so much. “He left the next morning and said he’d be back-.” her words trailed off.

“Well he’s surely dropped you an email, or called since he left.”

Gloria turned from the window and gazed at her understudy. She didn’t speak and her lips didn’t part in her usual smile, but her brown eyes spoke volumes.

“What an asshole,” Bonita said under her breath. For a second, she turned to look straight ahead at the equipment bench, and then turned to her boss who was once more studying the ocean, “Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?”

The smile was evident before she turned, “You’re going to ask me anyway.”

“Were you tempted, you know, when he was with you for so much time?”

“He’s a charming, good looking guy, but I don’t give myself to men because they’re charming and good looking. I’m not a plaything and I’m not desperate.”

‘But he must have seen how beautiful you are.’

“I am 43. I am not beautiful,” she said, “you are 20 and you are beautiful.”

“Well I think you should give your mirror a good clean sometime boss and age doesn’t disguise good looks.” She left to finish her tasks in the next room.

Gloria gazed out of the window again for a few minutes and tried to smile, but it was too difficult. So she got back to what she truly loved – her work. Who needed men anyway?

*

Friday, 13th August 2010

Although she had tried to act casually the day before, the news that the American developer was back in the area ignited something deep within her. Gloria set a list of tasks for her team and told them she’d be back about lunchtime. At the lab door, she stopped to check her keys and could sense her young colleague’s eyes on her.

She looked at Bonita, “Yes?”

“Have we urgent business in town boss?” she paused. “Oh yes, of course, it’s Friday,” then she raised her eyebrows and shrugged, implying that it was a routine occurrence.

Gloria couldn’t stop a smile, shook her head and said, “Don’t you get me started this morning, young lady. Now get to work.” She walked away from the door and then stopped and looked back. “I’m sorry I was abrupt yesterday.”

Bonita laughed and said, “You’re forgiven. Now go and see him.”

It was a 20-minute drive to Lamarosa. Gloria met Morgan at Luisa’s Cafe, managing to make it appear accidental. Their meeting did not last long. On the return journey an hour later, Gloria pulled off onto a track she knew well.

She drove on until she reached a viewpoint high above Portillo and the bay, the haven where she lived and worked. When she got out of her 4 x 4, she climbed onto the hood to enjoy a bottle of chilled juice and the panoramic view of the Pacific and nearby islands.

The peace that she normally felt at such a moment was spoiled by a multitude of thoughts. She felt as if her meeting with the American had replaced what would have been an equally brief meeting at her lab. For the greater good, she had refused to sign his proposals until they had been seen and cleared by higher regional authorities.

He had been visibly displeased, but thanked her and left. No hugs. No flirting.

*

Monday, 16th August 2010

Over the weekend, Gloria tried to put the American businessman out of her mind, and, at the same time, the two local who men had made it clear that their attentions were a pre-cursor to something more meaningful. She started her new week with a refreshing ocean swim.

On occasion, she would meet up with her group of special friends, but they weren’t there at 6am, so she swam alone. The effort used and the solitude of an ocean swim relieved the daily stresses of life.

Bonita wasn’t around when Gloria reached the lab, so she switched on her laptop. There was an email from her daughter, which would always produce a smile.

Date: 15 August 2010, 23:00

Subject: Relationships

From: Isabella

To: G. Banderas

Hi Mom,

As of Saturday, I’ve started a new relationship. Don’t worry, I’m keeping this one as casual as possible. I didn’t enjoy the broken-heart syndrome last time. The guy’s name is Bill and he’s on our course so I know he hasn’t been seeing anybody for the last two years. I’ve stressed to him, no promises either way and we’ll just see how things go. He’s from New York City so you can guess where I’ll be going on some of my short breaks.

I’ve no doubt you’ll be busy so I’ll let you get back to your test-tubes and samples.

All my love as always,

Isabella xx

“That’s my girl,” Gloria said and stared out across the ocean, “if only I could follow your fine example.” She gazed out of the small Staff Room window, and watched as the ocean rolled steadily onward, lapping onto the white sands outside the lab. The noise of the parrots and monkeys carried from the nearby jungle and she could smell the ocean. In some ways, she felt that she lived in a paradise, but only in some ways.

For a short while, she tried to imagine a relationship that actually survived on a friendly, but casual basis. Some hope, she thought. She moved the cursor across to close her mailbox.

She stopped the tiny white arrow over her archived files, then opened the folder marked, ‘Pete Harris - Writer’ and read the message and attachment again. It took less than five minutes on Google to find a brief bio.

She wondered if she could still refer to him as ‘cute’, since he was a 48 year old. Her sensuous lips curled, as she read some of his material and tried to imagine his accent. At least he is English, she thought, so he’s not likely to be a hopeless romantic.

Gloria read on, and a mention of Greenearth sent the writer way up in her estimation, but she needed more time to think.

The next evening, she opened her laptop and read the Englishman’s message and the attachment again. She clicked on ‘Compose Message’.

*

Monday, 16th August 2010

England, United Kingdom

Pete opened his Inbox to find two emails from Panama and one from Alaska.

Date: 15 August 2010, 19:25

Subject: Re: Scientific Liaison

From: Dr. D. Robertson

To: Pete Harris

Hello Pete,

I’m attending a charity golf tournament in November but would be happy to help if you make your visit during December.

Best regards,

David Robertson.

Date: 15 August 2010, 20:40

Subject: Re: Scientific Liaison

From: Dr. Petulengro

To: Pete Harris

Dear Pete,

Unfortunately, we will be in Europe throughout November and December. Hope all goes well,

Regards,

Rosetta P.

Date: 15 August 2010, 22:15

Subject: Re: Scientific Liaison

From: Karl Hendrikson

To: Pete Harris

Hi Pete,

I would be happy to help with your research. I will be in Alaska for the remainder of August and the whole of September. If you would still like help, please email again in the final week of September.

Be safe,

Karl.

Pete moved the cursor over the archive file titled ‘Alice’. He was finding it hard to resist the temptation to read it, but he knew the wrong type of message from her would affect his ability to work. Once again, he went back over the replies from the scientists. He made notes on the files that he’d allocated to them. He had been making notes against each of his choices since he started his research.

To Dr. Robertson and Dr. Petulengro he sent brief thank you messages before writing to Dr. Hendrikson.

Date: 16 August 2010, 10:30

Subject: Scientific Liaison – thank you

From: Pete Harris

To: Karl Hendrikson

Hello Karl.

Many thanks for your response. If things go ahead and I need your assistance I will be in touch by end of September as suggested.

Regards,

Pete.

*

Tuesday, 17th August 2010

Four emails awaited Pete when he opened his Inbox. One was from ‘Natasha’ writing via a dubious dating agency in Eastern Europe. The other three messages were from Panama.

Date: 16 August 2010, 15:00

Subject: Re: Scientific Expedition

From: Dr. H Frazer

To: Pete Harris

Hello Pete,

Thank you for considering me for the temporary attachment as your liaison. Unfortunately from early September until mid-December I will be involved in a lecture tour of schools and colleges. I’m sure it would have been a delight to work with you and I wish you luck. There are many eminently qualified personnel here in Panama.

Best Regards,

Helen Frazer

Date: 16 August 2010, 16:30

Subject: Re: Scientific Liaison

From: R. F. Sanchez

To: Pete Harris

Dear Mr. Harris.

Dr. Zarenski is presently helping us with a few inquiries. I am responding personally to you because this is the first message from you to his email address. I would appreciate any further contact to be made through me at the attached address.

Regards,

R.F. Sanchez. Chief of Police.

Pete sent a brief and polite thank you message to Helen Frazer. He then created an archive file with the Police Officer’s name and responded.

Date: 16 August 2010, 10:30

Subject: Scientific Liaison – thank you

From: Pete Harris

To: R. F. Sanchez

Dear Chief Sanchez,

It was kind of you to respond. I will find another specialist and you may rest assured that if there is to be any future correspondence with Dr. Zarenski, I will contact you first.

Regards,

Pete Harris,

He made a note against Dr. Zarenski’s name to check into his South American connections. Pete could smell a story, but it would have to wait. He lifted his Fisher Space Pen and scribbled, ‘R.F. Sanchez, Chief of Police, Panama City – check background.’

He opened the next message which was written on the previous evening.

Date: 16 August 2010, 22:45

Subject: Re: Scientific Liaison

From: G. Banderas

To: Pete Harris

Hi Pete,

I would be delighted to help and I will be available from end September. Tomorrow I am heading into the jungle for two weeks. If you have not been here before, I would suggest a visit in November or December advisable.

Regards,

G. Banderas

Pete replied.

Date: 17 August 2010, 11:00

Subject: Scientific Liaison – thank you

From: Pete Harris

To: G. Banderas

Hello again Dr. Banderas

Thank you for the positive response. I will be in touch again in October, which I hope will allow time for your team to deal with the results of your imminent jungle expedition.

Regards,

Pete.

A few hours later, he received another message.

Date: 17 August 2010, 19:00

Subject: Expedition

From: G. Banderas

To: Pete Harris

Hi Pete,

The expedition takes precedence over all other plans right now. Thank you for considering the importance of our work. I will email on my return to my normal location.

Regards,

Gloria

Pete lifted his pen and smiled as he circled the name Dr. G. Banderas on his list. He stood at the window to gaze across the North Sea. The water posed no threat to him at this distance and he watched as a yacht fought against the strong winds. He wondered absently how it felt to be alone in such a small craft tackling Mother Nature.

As he stood marvelling at the skill of the yachtsman, he wondered if he would hear word about his adventure novel, ‘Saviour of the Abused Planet’, by the end of September. It had been four years in the writing, and he had at last sent the final draft to his agent in July.

He wanted to spend time working towards his Panama trip and to check out the area more thoroughly. The dimples in his tanned cheeks grew as he pondered the idea of digging into the background of his proposed liaison in Panama.

 

***

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Tuesday 6th June 2017

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