Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ripples by BJ Neblett (Part 3)

Ripples (Part 3)
by BJ Neblett
© Copyright 2010

August 5, 1:10 AM
Flatbush, New York
            “I think you’re totally out of your league, that’s what I think.” Rob gave his roommate a pitiful look. “And I think you’re totally nuts.”
            “Quiet, you made me lose count again.” Bill Brown scratched his head then scratched thru the figures he’d just written on the yellow legal pad. He stared at the meager stacks of fifty and hundred dollar bills lined up like an undisciplined band of mercenary soldiers. With a sigh he began to count again. On the bed next to the tired particle board desk from K-Mart, lay his passport; a well traveled, over stuffed army surplus back pack, and the worn leather case that housed his aging laptop.
            “Some poor little rich girl you met on the subway gives you her cell phone number and right away you become Don Quixote, off on a noble quest.” Rob threw up his hands and laughed, “The things we do for love.”
            Bill finished his counting and tucked the money into a Harley Davidson wallet chained to his belt. “That’s not it at all, Rob. You don’t understand. This is what I do.”
            With no attempt to conceal his bemused expression, Rob replied. “Oh, yeah, I forgot… the renowned investigative reporter who’s going to change the world. Ok, Clark Kent, suppose you explain it to me.”
            Bill peered at his friend from across the top of his spectacles. “It’s not because of her,” he began patiently, “well… not exactly… it’s something she said, something that clicked in my mind. As we were talking she mentioned health care. At first I just figured she had changed the subject.” His face adopted the dopey expression of a beagle in love. “She can be kinda hard to follow sometimes…”
            “You mean scattered,” Rob mused.
            “No, not scattered…”
            “No, complex…”
            “Hair brained…”
            “Not the sharpest knife in the drawer…”
            The reported looked at his friend, the dopey expression giving way to acceptance. “Ok, scattered.”
            “And because ‘lil Orphan Annie confuses health care concerns in this country with striking coffee growers, you’re off to South America. Meanwhile, every legitimate reported is in London getting the real story.”
            Bill ignored the dig. “No… no, it’s not because of her, but her name. I didn’t connect the two until today. She said her father told her the strike was over health care.”
            “So, who’s her papa to have inside info the rest of the world isn’t privy to?”
            “Her father is Wayne White.”
            Rob let out a long low whistle. “Wow, Daddy Warbucks himself! If anyone should know…”
            “Wayne White should know,” Brown said in agreement, finishing the thought.
            “That’s some hunch you’re playing, my friend. I don’t know if I’d have the coconuts to empty my piggy bank on the word of some ditzy blonde…”
            “Scattered,” Bill corrected.
            “…scattered blonde,” Rob acquiesced. “You know, any one of Ms. White’s outfits is worth more than that entire bank roll you’ve got strapped to your hip.”
            The realization gave Bill Brown a start and a chill. “Yeah, I know… I know it’s a gamble… but something tells me… besides, I’ve made the decision, and the reservations. It’s the red eye to Rio; puddle hopper to Cartagena; train to Vélez; then over the mountains and through the woods by Jeep I go, in search of coffee and a story.” He grinned up at his friend, slinging the olive drab back pack over one shoulder. “By the way, I borrowed your Nikon.”
            “Hey! That’s my best camera!”

August 7, 3:06 PM
San Rosario, Colombia
            Some sixty hours later, a weary, bleary eyed Bill Brown sat in a small square wooden house, eating flat bread and drinking his first cup of coffee in weeks.
            “I can see why your beans are prized so highly,” he said with sincerity. “This is beyond a doubt the best coffee I have ever tasted.”
            Juan Carlos scratched his stubbly chin and snorted indignantly.
            “Juan Carlos, do not be so rude… where are your manners?” Victor Manuel turned to his guest. “Por favor, escusa, señor. Do not mind my friend. It was his granddaughter, little María Elaina, who was very sick.”
            “I’m sorry, señor Carlos. I am glad that María is better.”
            “You think this gringo is going to help us?” Juan Carlos snapped, ignoring Bill’s concern. “You are a bigger fool than I, Victor. He is just like the rest.”
            “No!” Bill almost shouted, catching himself as the two men raised their eyebrows. “I’m sorry… no… no, I am here to help.”
            “You must understand,” Victor said with a sigh, “we have been told that before. Men of the company have come to our village these past months, men like yourself, with fancy cameras and other gadgets.” He pointed to the open laptop and small digital recorder resting on the table between them. “They talk and talk and then they go away, and still we hear nothing.” He folded his sun browned arms across his broad chest. “The radio tells us of other growers in other places and of their demands. They want this thing and that thing… but there is never mention of our village or of a doctor. I do not understand… so much talk…”
            “That is because the company has kept your village and its needs out of the papers. But I am not from the company,” Bill said softly. “And I have not come here to talk, señor Manuel. I have come here, to your village, not to talk but to listen.” He looked over at the old man. Juan Carlos’ dark eyes were the color of the coffee beans he grew and loved. “Señor Carlos, I will listen. Tell me your story. And I promise you, I will do everything I can to see to it the whole world hears your words; hears the truth.”
            With a shrug Juan Carlos spoke. “It is not an easy life. But we are a hardy people. We love these mountains; they have been good to us. The coffee business I know nothing about, nor do I care.” A confident smile splintered the ancient face. “But the beans… the beans… this I know. It is not an easy thing, raising the beans here. But as you yourself have said, it is a good crop we have.” He relaxed, leaning his chair back on two legs. “The men of the fincas – where the beans are grown – are patient people… they must be… you cannot rush the beans. The trees must be hand planted, and then hand pruned; watered by hand and looked after. They require much attention, like a bambino.
            “Harvest time is year round and the beans are handpicked, sorted by hand; washed and sun dried, and then allowed to ferment.” His expression grew serious as he placed a knurled fist firmly on the table. “It is only then, at the precise moment, that they are ready to be sent away. San Rosario coffee is the best in the world,” Juan Carlos proclaimed proudly.
            “The work is hard, yes,” Victor Manuel continued. “But it is what we do… what our fathers and their father’s fathers did before us. And it is what we teach our little ones. We do not ask for machines and trucks and fancy factories. No, that is not our way. Our life is simple; it is a good life. All we ask is that our children do not have to suffer as poor little María Elaina. The company owes us that much.”

August 9, 11:58 PM
Washington DC
            “So, are you going to run it?”
            The managing editor of the Washington Post loosened his tie and top two shirt buttons. His sleeves were already rolled and perspiration marked his furrowed forehead. The east coast was in the middle of a devastating heat wave and the air conditioner struggled to meet demand.
            “I’d be a fool not to. This is dynamite stuff. And the interview with the little granddaughter is Pulitzer material.”
            “But he’s an unknown, a nobody…”
            The editor looked up at his assistant. “We all were at one time.”
            “What about our man down there, Riley?”
            “Riley is a fool! And he’s damn lucky he still has a job. If I hadn’t needed him to confirm what is in this exposé he would have been gone. This story was right under his nose all along!” The editor mopped his brow, tossing the article on the desk.
            “So, you are going to run it.”
            “I’ve made the decision.” The Washington Post chief grinned. “Tomorrow morning unknown reporter B. Brown will find his story front page center with a by line. Before noon every paper, news agency, TV and radio station will have picked it up. And by dinner time he will be the most sought after journalist in the country, if not the world.”
            “And we’ll have on hell of a scoop.”
            The editor scanned the galley proofs with satisfaction. “Mister Bill Brown, your life is about to change.”

August 11, 9:15 AM
Joplin, Missouri
            Steve Fields sat in his small office, drinking ice cold buttermilk. He re-read the article for the third time. The accompanying photos tugged at his heart, making him think of his own young granddaughter. Bill Brown’s exclusive exposé of the London based international conglomerate and their treatment of the coffee growers was headline news. The Washington Post story had been picked up by newspapers worldwide, including the Joplin Globe. Fields sipped his milk and smiled. Maybe… just maybe…
            He made up his mind. The big, affable mid-westerner rose and strode into the outer office. “Mrs. Marshal, have every department head assemble in my office, please.”
            “Yes, Mr. Fields.”
            Fifteen minutes later, Steve Fields surveyed the stunned faces on half a dozen employees. “Any questions?”
            Finally a soft, timid voice spoke up. “Sir… are you… are you sure, sir?”
            “Yes, I’m sure.”
            “This is all very well and noble of you,” a more confident voice advanced. “But you’ve got to think of the customers. What will they say, and will they go along? And what about sales? Since the new chain supermarket opened up around the corner on Range Line Drive, we’re barely staying afloat. This store can’t take any more losses.”
            Fields grinned. “That’s why I hired you, Tom. You are always the voice of reason. That and because you’re my son-in-law.” Nervous laughter circled the room. “I know the situation, of course… but I’m glad to see each of you is aware as well.” He leaned back in his chair. “This store is fighting for its very existence. Being an independent is never easy. My father and his father’s father faced even tougher times… wars… the depression. It’s during those hard times that people look to their friends, their neighbors, and the community. The independent has been the backbone of commerce in this country… it still is. But more importantly, the independent is looked upon as a community leader.” He tossed the copy of the Joplin Globe onto the broad, round meeting table. “You’ve all read the story. You all know what those people in South America are up against. I couldn’t in good conscience drink another cup of coffee now, even if I could get one. It’s David and Goliath all over again. But this time David needs all the help he can get.”
            Steve Fields ran his fingers through his thinning, graying hair. He looked each of the men and women assembled before him in the eye, deciphering their expressions. “I don’t want any of you to get the wrong impression of my altruism. I am doing this as much for the store as for the coffee growers. It’s a gamble I’m sure. But one I’m willing to take. I’ve made the decision. We’ll all have to work hard and pull together and keep a positive attitude. A few well said prayers would be appreciated as well.”
            By noon, every product sold by the London based conglomerate had been removed from the shelves of Field’s Family Market. Along with the missing coffee, tea; crackers; cranberries; cat food; canned meats, and a number of other products disappeared. Each item was replaced by a neatly printed handbill. It read:
                                    Dear valued customer, as long as the parent company
                                    of this product refuses to see to the needs of the small
                                    village in Colombia on whose production of coffee beans
                                    they rely, Fields Family Market will refuse to carry any
                                    of their products. We apologize for any inconvenience
                                    this may cause our customers. We thank you for your
support, and encourage others to join our boycott.
            A copy of the handbill along with a letter explaining the store’s position was forwarded to London.
            That night the market owner counted the spots on his bedroom ceiling instead of sleeping. He tried counting up his savings and investments in case of a forced early retirement, but discovered it too depressing. By five AM he abandoned any hope of sleep and reluctantly rolled out of bed.
            When Steve Fields arrived to open his store he found the parking lot cluttered with mobile remote vans and satellite trucks. Several starched, shinning TV reporters, followed closely by huffing camera men, rushed over as Fields exited his old pick up. A microphone with the CNN logo was among the many thrust in his face. “Mister Fields, can you please comment on your decision to pull the London company’s product from your shelves?”
            By the next day the media circus had abated somewhat. The new story du jour became the hundreds of chain stores and independents across the country that had joined in the boycott. The Joplin Globe ran a feature on Steve Fields, proclaiming the gutsy store owner a home town hero and a national inspiration. The impassioned speech he’d made to his staff just two days earlier was featured in a side bar. It was printed nearly word for word with some additional patriotic pumping. The David and Goliath remark was picked up by the New York Times and soon became a catch phrase with the media. Fields couldn’t decide if he should kiss or kill his over eager son-in-law.
            But the gamble paid off. The small family owned business began to thrive again. Old customers showed their support and new patrons flocked to the small maverick store that had challenged the large international conglomerate.

Next week part four

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