(Sample Chapters)

Chapter 1

Leah Barton was an expert at the school drop-off maneuver. Arriving at Golden Gate Academy, she double-parked her new ’88 Volvo station wagon on the bustling street. “Okay, kids. Here we are.” By the time she turned to face them, Teddy hung over the seat back, ready to kiss his mother goodbye. He was already several inches taller than Leah. On his upper lip, thickening blonde hair heralded approaching manhood. “Bye, Mom.” He clipped the words, firing them like rapid-fire gunshots. “Give ’em hell– I mean, heck, today.” “That’s better,” Leah said with a fleeting frown. “I’ll do my best.” “You look beautiful today, Mom.” “Thanks, Teddy. Must be this turquoise blouse.” Leah touched her collar. His compliment pleased her. She had gotten up earlier than usual to give herself the extra prep time that television appearances demanded. Radio was easier. It let her focus on her human rights message, without concern about how she’d look for television’s all-seeing, unflattering cameras. Fortunately, this was a “home game,” as she called her San Francisco interview dates. Local shows caused the least disruption in the family’s routine and allowed her to perform the preliminaries at home, instead of an anonymous hotel room. “Love ya,” Teddy called, as he stepped out the traffic-side door into the mid-October sunshine. He wove his way toward the school gate through other drop-off cars that crammed the narrow one-way street. Stopping, he turned back and flashed the American Sign Language hand symbol for “I love you.” Leah repeated the gesture. Teddy’s unselfconscious affection brought always-welcome rainbows to her days. Monica put her arms around her mother’s neck and kissed her cheek. Although only two years behind her brother in age, her pixyish gymnast’s frame made her appear much younger. In contrast to Teddy’s blond hair, Monica’s was as black as Snow White’s. “Can’t I go with you?” she pleaded, giving it one more try before hitting the pavement. An impatient parent honked from the rear. Leah glanced at her watch. “No, dear.” She kissed her daughter on the forehead and rubbed away a faint smear of red with her thumb. “I’ll pick you up at three sharp.” Monica slid across the seat to the curbside door. “I love you, Mom,” she said and dashed toward the red brick building that housed Golden Gate Academy. “Love you too.” Before pulling out into the traffic, Leah risked yet another honk to steal a glance in the rear-view mirror. She brushed a strand of blonde hair from her face and eyed her features. Prone to self-criticism, Leah assessed her reflection through the mirror of Walt’s love: unblemished skin, high cheekbones, finely curved jaw, a straight nose directing attention to soft lips and a small dimple at the point of her chin. Achieving the natural, not overly made-up, look that suited her best took only modest applications of the Scandinavian skin care products she had used for many years. Having passed this brief inspection, she was ready to focus on her nine a.m. interview with Jeff Nelson on “SFO in the AM.” With a shift of mental focus, she went from being the mother of two growing, challenging kids to being national spokesperson for Prisoners of Conscience International.

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Father Javier de Córdova knew nothing of Leah Barton’s October seventeenth television interview. In fact, he knew little about the life of single American mothers who struggled to balance parenthood and career and still find time for a personal life. He had other things on his mind when he got out of bed that Monday morning. It was October 17th, National Independence Day in his native Santo Sangre and a festive holiday in his village of Santa Teresita, located high on the slopes of the Chuchuán volcano. The day started off like every other Independence Day. After the usual cold-water shower, he ran a comb through his dark, naturally wavy hair that receded just a bit more on the left side than on the right. The straight razor with which he shaved was the one his soldier-father had used for many years before his death. Javier then dressed in a clean black cassock and made his way across the already crowded plaza to the old church, which the ladies’ Altar Society had spruced up for the occasion with mounds of brightly-colored passion flowers and clusters of potted palm trees. As pastor of Santa Teresita Parish, Javier presided at the festive morning Mass, preaching a stirring homily on patriotism. “Love of country begins with loving your fellow countrymen,” he told his congregation. “And, who are your countrymen?” With a welcoming smile, he gestured toward the mayor and other village dignitaries sitting in the front pew. “Not just President Montenegro and our honorable public officials who wear their well-deserved medals and insignia at celebrations in the capital and in our village.” The mayor acknowledged the compliment with solemn nod. His pewmates sat a bit taller and, by reflex, adjusted the symbols of their offices. “The countrymen you are called to love are those who live in your own homes. They sit beside you here at Mass this morning.” This was Javier’s standard Independence Day theme, but he meant every word of it. Nothing had happened recently in the capital, his highland region, or the world to make him believe the message was no longer needed. He closed the liturgy by leading a rousing rendition of “De Colores” sung in his strong, if not always on-key, baritone. A parade followed the Mass. Javier stood on the front steps of the church shoulder to shoulder with His Excellency the Mayor. First in line was a group of grade school children stepping smartly to the monotonous beat of the local high school drum corps. After the marchers, came the obligatory procession of local religious and social organizations with their colorful array of banners and sashes. Proud members carried garlanded statues of favorite saints, life-sized pictures of the president, or some hero of the 1901 independence movement that severed the island’s colonial relationship with Spain. Although the day was rapidly warming, Javier waved and sprinkled each passing group with holy water. These were his people, his friends and neighbors. He had ministered to them and them alone since his ordination seventeen years ago.

* * *

Both Leah Barton and Father Javier de Córdova were on Juana Santiago’s mind that mid-October Independence Day. It hadn’t been a good week for Juana’s boss, the president of Santo Sangre. Juana had been a bright, beautiful Georgetown graduate when she first came to work for President Montenegro’s chief political advisor. That was shortly after the 1970 coup that brought Montenegro and his two fellow colonels and co-conspirators to power. The new assistant immediately attracted the president’s eye. It didn’t take him long to get her in his bed. As a reward, he promoted her to the official position of private secretary to the president. Her unofficial role–Montenegro’s most trusted counselor. For eighteen years, Juana had accompanied him everywhere, except to his horse ranch and private home, which Señora Anastasia Montenegro y Castillo ruled as tyrannically as her husband ruled his island nation. Juana’s absolute loyalty to the president was admirable or dangerous, depending on one’s point of view. Bureaucrats at all levels of the government understood that the road to the president’s ear passed through his secretary’s office. Being in Juana Santiago’s good graces became prerequisite to gaining presidential favor. Conversely, if you made Juana your enemy, it was time to transfer your money to a Miami bank account. Juana had advised Montenegro against spending thousands of cruzeros wining and dining a delegation of European and American bankers. Determined to win them over, the president rejected her counsel. Dutifully, she sat to the president’s left at the elegantly silvered and crystaled table in the state dining room. When the money men announced over dessert that they would have a hard time convincing their directorates to extend further credit, the news came as no surprise. With an air of nonchalance, the president disguised his fury. Puffing to life a fresh Cuban cigar, he let his chestnut eyes range from one man to the next. “Gentlemen, perhaps you can tell me why.” It was more a demand than an inquiry. Apparently, the bankers had elected Herr Wenger of the Central Bank of Bonn to justify the bad news. “I speak only for the firms we collectively represent, Your Excellency, but frankly there is a new spirit in international banking today. It is not like the ’70s anymore, when money was plentiful and lenders willing, eager even, to invest in developing nations. If it were up to me personally, there would be no problem, but as responsible fiduciaries, we must be sensitive to our key investors’ growing displeasure with your administration and certain of its policies.” Herr Wenger paused to dig out another spoonful of Le Mystére, an elegant ice cream, almond, and fudge dessert that had been the hottest (or coolest) delight in Paris last summer. “An increasingly negative balance of payments, makes your country a not-so-attractive and riskier investment these days. That is the major reason for our negative assessment.” Wenger paused to let his explanation sink in. “In addition, we are feeling pressure from a growing element among our stockholders who are . . . shall we say, uneasy about the deteriorating state of human rights in Santo Sangre.” Montenegro’s face revealed none of the anti-European, anti-American bigotry boiling beneath the surface of his calm exterior. “Friends, I am amazed that you could have been so taken in by the slanderous rumors, emanating mostly from the Amsterdam headquarters of Prisoners of Conscience International and its puppet affiliates around the western world, particularly in the USA and Italy.” He spoke in an almost fatherly manner. After a long pause, the president resumed his tactful defense. “I thought surely, Herr Wenger, that men of your position and intelligence would be able to separate fact from POCI’s idle and malicious gossip.” Juana had given the plump, balding Wenger and his smug colleagues credit for too much intelligence. She considered the Americans even bigger hypocrites than the Europeans. Montenegro picked his words carefully, handling each as if it were a hand-grenade with the pin pulled out. “And, what if I were to make . . . adjustments . . . to our way of doing things?” Wenger’s expression didn’t change. “Of course, we would take any action on your part as cause to reevaluate our conclusions.” Juana hated to see a man of Montenegro’s greatness reduced to groveling before his inferiors. They wouldn’t treat a president of the United States or the leader of the Soviet Union this way, or the oil-rich kings of the Middle East. “Then, let’s meet again in the morning,” the president said, “before you depart our beautiful country. I will confer with my cabinet tonight. Perhaps, there are stones we have not yet turned in our efforts to satisfy your institutions.”

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