Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ripples by BJ Neblett (Part 4)

Ripples (Part 4)
by BJ Neblett
© Copyright 2010

August 30, 9:27 AM
London, England
            Todd Worth settled into the thick winged back leather desk chair of his plush twelfth floor office overlooking the Thames. Outside, a cheery yellow sun cast it contented smile on the smoke tinted windows, reflecting Worth’s mood. On the expensive mahogany desk waited an iced can of Pepsi, while a single yellow light on the multiline telephone blinked impatiently. Worth ignored it, staring blankly at the framed photo of his new sports car.
            The intercom pulled Todd Worth from his thoughts. “Excuse me, sir, Doctor Hawthorn is here.”
            Worth mumbled to himself, a strand of sandy blonde hair falling across his smooth, tanned brow as he reached for the speaker box. “Thank you, Ms. Schafer. I’ll see him in a minute.”
            Pressing the flashing yellow button, he lifted the receiver to his ear. “Hello… Todd Worth here… what’s that? No, no… I’m afraid Nigel Bannister is no longer with the company… yes, that’s right… took an early retirement, I’m in charge now… yes, quite… very good.”
            He hung up the phone, his last words echoing sweetly in his mind: I’m in charge now…
            Todd Worth was a good, albeit casual man; a company man. He learned the coffee business from his father. From plantation to export to refining to packaging to shipping to merchandising, Todd Worth knew his beans. He spent twelve long, sweltering years in South America as a company representative, dealing with plantation owners, cartels, drug lords, dictators and revolutions.
            The next decade Worth spent dealing with hurricanes and sea sickness, riding the endless blue green waves of the Atlantic. He’d graduated to the position of senior supervisor of shipping. The fancy title translated into interminable hours at sea babysitting the company’s cargo of coffee beans.
            Then for six years Todd Worth rode a desk. He was finally back in England, this time checking and rechecking the status of shipments to the company’s numerous distributors. The work was boring and repetitive. And, it seemed for a time he would ride this desk to retirement.
            But Todd Worth always considered himself a lucky man.
            The unexpected and troublesome work stoppage had mushroomed into an international incident. Coffee growers all over the world refused to pick or ship the valuable commodity. Chain stores and independents across the US and Canada canceled major orders, removing from their shelves all products produced by the coffee conglomerate. Consumers around the globe stood in support of the boycott for better conditions for the people of the tiny village of San Rosario. Common stock of the London based company plummeted, with no bottom in sight.
            But Todd Worth’s luck held true.
            Forty eight hours earlier Worth was in the right place at the right time when aging CEO Smyth pointed his finger and made his decision. Now Todd Worth was enjoying his first full day as vice president of export and international relations.
            Worth rose, confidently fiddling with the Windsor knot of his hand painted silk tie from Soho. The door to his office opened and a man with graying temples, round spectacles and a limp entered. “How are you, Todd? My, it’s been a time hasn’t it?” The two men shook hands, sizing up one another like a pair of British bulldogs.
            “Yes, quite, Quincy, quite some time. How are things at the hospital?”
            They took up positions in matching arm chairs near the oversized window. “Oh, well, running along smoothly as ever, you know.” Dr. Quincy Hawthorn considered the opulent office. “I must say, you’ve done well by yourself, old chap.”
            “Yes, yes, we’ve come a long way since Eaton, haven’t we?” Worth turned in his seat, his brown eyes narrowing. “I need your help Quincy old man, I’m up against it. Surely you’ve heard about this mess in South America. I can’t see how anyone could avoid it. That school of yours has recently graduated a fresh batch of interns. Perhaps you could fine me one willing to pull a year or two of service in Colombia. The company’s setting up a wonderful little clinic in a place called San Rosario. It will be well equipped and maintained; there’s a fine hospital nearby and the pay is decent. It should be a great experience as well as quite the adventure for the right chap.”
            The doctor studied his flaccid faced friend carefully. He knew what medical facilities in remote places could be like. He knew that the nearby hospital was in Vélez, a grueling full day’s journey. And he was aware that this was as much a publicity ploy as a humanitarian effort. Still, Worth was right. The medical experience gleaned would be invaluable to a young doctor just starting his practice. He thought of his own years with the home service as a young doctor in India.
            Dr. Hawthorn smiled, nodded and made his decision. “Ok, Todd, I’ll find you a doctor. I’ll start the process immediately. In fact, I think I just might have the perfect candidate.”
            Rising, they strode to the door. “Thanks, Quincy. I knew you’d come through for me. Ring me up as soon as you have somebody.”
            As the office door closed, Worth’s own words returned, playing over like a stuck record: I’m in charge now…
            He grinned slyly. “I’m in charge now,” he said to no one, straightening his tie. “And I make the decisions. You got your health clinic thanks to a lot of bleeding heart liberals and that senile old duck running this company. But just step out of line again and you’ll have to deal with Todd Worth!”

September 6, 6:39 PM
Flagstaff, Arizona
            “So, you’ve made up your mind?”
            “And that’s it? You’re back home less than a month and you are leaving again?”
            “Dad, I…” Paul Chandler slid the half eaten meal from in front of him. Across the elegant dining room table his father eyed him curiously. “Dad, I know it hasn’t been easy for you since mom passed away.”
            Dr. Thomas Chandler balled his linen napkin, tossing it onto the table. “I told you, Paul, your mother has nothing to do with it,” he replied, closing his eyes and his mind to the bitter memory. “Lord knows I’ve missed her these last two years. But I’m fine, son, just fine.”
            Paul smiled across the room. He loved his father and would do anything for him. He understood his father’s pain. There wasn’t a day that went by he didn’t miss his mother. He remembered how proud she was the day he started college, following in his father’s footsteps. His mother had been his biggest fan and strongest supporter during the difficult first years of pre-med. It wasn’t fair. She never got to see her son graduate from medical school.
            “Why do you think we sent you off to that school in England?” his father asked for about the tenth time since Paul broke the news. “We wanted the best for you; you are a part of this family, and a part of the family business, Paul. You and I are a team. Your Uncle Jack and cousin Jess are looking forward to you joining us at the clinic.”
            “That’s your dream, dad,” Paul said patiently, “not mine. At least it isn’t right now. Perhaps in a couple of years, after…”
            “After what?” his father interrupted. He caught himself. He didn’t mean to raise his voice. But this wasn’t the way it was suppose to be.
            “Dad, those people in San Rosario need me.”
            “Those people don’t even have any kind of a facility for you yet. If you are determined to go, what’s your hurry?” Chandler faltered, the words welling up in his chest. “I need you, son, here at the clinic, the way your mother and I always planned.” Rising from the table he began to pace. “I’m sorry, Paul, it’s just so hard to understand.”
            Paul’s quiet blue eyes turned inward. “The Grand Canyon…”
            “How’s that…?”
            “The Grand Canyon,” Paul repeated softly. “Do you remember that trip we took to the Grand Canyon?”
            The question caused the senior Chandler to stop and turn. “Why, you couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old.”
            “I was six. And we never made it to the Canyon. Remember, dad?”
            Dr. Chandler’s stern face softened. “Yes…”
            “Traveling up route sixty four,” Paul continued, “we were flagged down by that Hopi Indian family. The woman was in heavy labor, a breach birth. You saved her life… and the baby. But not just that, you made the decision to go with them all the way to the hospital, over seventy miles away. You wouldn’t leave her until she was out of danger. For two days mom and I waited in that old motel room while you remained with your patient. By then our vacation was over and we had to return home. Later you took me aside and explained. You told me no one, regardless of who they may be, should have to suffer for lack of medical attention. I was never so proud of you. It was then and there I knew I wanted to be a doctor… just like my father.” He rose, moving to his father’s side. “Now I am a doctor, dad, just like you. And I’ve made my decision.”
            Dr. Thomas Chandler smiled and nodded at his son but said nothing as he walked out of the room.

            Young Paul Chandler looked up as his father entered the kitchen. “Good morning, dad. How are you? I haven’t seen much of you these last two days. Is everything ok?”
            Dr. Chandler poured himself a glass of juice. “I’ve been very busy; had plenty to occupy my time… and my mind. Son, I…”
            “Dad, don’t… please. Everything is set. I’m leaving in an hour.”
            Setting his glass aside, Chandler grinned broadly at his son. “Yes, I know: US Air flight 90 to LA; American Airlines from LAX to Panama City; then Aeromexico to Bogata. The train and Jeep trip into the hills promises to be interesting. It should be quite an adventure. Hopefully, the medical supplies I’ve arranged for won’t be far behind us. We should arrive in San Rosario sometime Thursday.”
            Chandler placed a loving hand to his son’s arm. “You are right, Paul. I’ve lost sight of why I became a doctor. Thanks for the kick in the pants.”
            “But, what about the clinic here in Flagstaff?”
            “Uncle Jack can handle it while we’re gone. He’s got Jessica and a great staff. Hell, the place practically runs itself. I doubt if I’ll even be missed. I’m sure your mother would approve. Besides, I told you, we’re a team.”
            Father and son embraced warmly. “I love you, dad.”
            “I love you, too, son.” Wiping a stray tear, Dr. Thomas Chandler ran his arm around his son’s shoulder. “C’mon, we’ve got patients waiting for us in San Rosario.”

September 15, 7:45 AM
Seattle, Washington
            Rick McConnell was running late. Not having his morning coffee didn’t help his disposition. “What do you mean?”
            “I’m sorry; I just didn’t have time yesterday. I’ll stop by Tully’s this afternoon.”
            McConnell swallowed hard, struggling to contain his anger. “Damn it, Laura, I ask you to do just one thing, just one! You know how important this meeting is to me. If I can get on old man Baxter’s good side I’m a shoe in for a promotion.”
            “And the best way to get on his good side is with that special coffee,” McConnell’s wife replied patiently. “I know, you’ve told me.”
            Reaching for his briefcase, McConnell started across the kitchen. “Then you know how much he loves his coffee. Because of that nonsense with the growers, it’s been months since he’s been able to get any. That specialty coffee shop promised the first shipment would be on their shelves yesterday!” He nervously checked his wrist watch. “Let’s see, they should be open now…”
            “No, Rick, surely you’re not thinking… that’s all the way up in Ballard, the only store that carries that blend. Your meeting is in forty five minutes. You’ll never make it in time.”
            Rick McConnell’s kiss barely grazed his wife’s cheek as he barreled out the door. “I’ll make it…”

            Thirty minutes later, McConnell’s Ford raced down 15th avenue. On the passenger seat rested a package of rare, expensive coffee beans: San Rosario Select Blend. Up ahead the Ballard Bridge began to lazily creek open, allowing a fishing trawler to glide silently beneath. Traffic on the busy thoroughfare slowed to a stop.
            McConnell cursed aloud, pounding a fist to the dashboard. Ignoring the red flashing warning signals, he wheeled the silver Taurus onto a side street. A block further the speeding vehicle violently broadsided a minivan as it backed out of a driveway.
            Five year old Mary Ellen, on her way to her first day of pre-school, was killed instantly.

                                                                                                                        Seattle, Washington
                                                                                                                        April, 2010

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