Mark Terry

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


August 31, 2011

            Arlo Benita was the CEO of the CBC, but he showed an uneasy deference to Juan Osorio, particularly since Osorio was being presented to Derek as merely an escort. They sat in a large conference room with windows overlooking a courtyard, date palms waving in the breeze. Arlo Benita, Juan Osorio, Coro Gomez to translate, and three other executives from the CBC sat around the conference tables.
            Benita was a fat man, probably 350 pounds, a smidge over six-feet tall. His thick graying hair was wet with sweat. Benita was a sweaty guy, his collar wet and wilting, armpit stains on his white shirt. Derek wondered if it was nerves, or if Benita just wasn’t very healthy. The building was air conditioned, but not terribly well.
            The company’s Chief Operating Officer, Luis Manuel, was giving a presentation on products the CBC thought might be good for distribution in Canada. Derek had begun the meeting by talking about TLM Biotechnology and the Canadian company’s distribution relationships with various other countries. He topped it off with what TLM, he and the CIA felt would be a major carrot for CBC – a potential distribution relationship with TLM into the U.S. market, a possible way of working around the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo.
            It had definitely gotten their attention. He had been instantly peppered by questions, which Coro had struggled to translate. The CBC management team wanted to know how sure he was of the feasibility of the deal, would the U.S. government prevent it, could he present numbers. He’d been forced to finally raise his hands in protest. “Gentlemen, I assure you that TLM’s lawyers have been working on this and it is entirely legal and possible. It’s the sort of thing you will have to discuss with them in detail. As you know, although I’m presenting TLM to you, I am largely a technical-business guy, so one of the principle reasons I’m here is to evaluate your technical units to determine if there’s a good technical match between our two companies. To that end, as we arranged before, I hope we can spend a significant period of time touring your facilities and meeting your technical personnel.”
            It was at this gambit that Benita, glancing nervously at Osorio, began to hedge. Coro translated: “I understand, Dr. Hamill, your interest in CBC’s manufacturing facilities. You do, of course, understand that many of our technologies are…” A nervous pause while Benita met Osorio’s gaze, who spoke up to say, “Proprietary.”
            “I understand,” Derek said. “However, I don’t see how we could continue much further without at least showing me some of your facilities and seeing your manufacturing processes. It’s why TLM wants this relationship, after all.”
            “Of course,” Osorio interjected. “After lunch I’m sure we can begin a tour. In the meantime, I believe Senor Manuel has a presentation.”
            Derek leaned forward and spoke directly to Arlo Benita. “I’m sorry. I thought Senor Osorio was my liaison.”
            Benita twitched. Osorio, his oily voice losing a bit of its smoothness, said, “I’m sorry I didn’t make my role clear, Doctor Hamill. I am an advisor to the executives.”
            “Legal? Technical?”
            Osorio smiled. “Legal and governmental.”
            “But you do appreciate that although I am interested in the business relationship with CBC, I’m here to perform technical due diligence, as well as to set things up for further discussions. Surely, your government would approve of a distribution deal of this potential magnitude with Canada and TLM’s other partners worldwide.”
            “Of course, of course. But Senor Manuel will continue with his presentation.”
            And so it went. They ate a pleasant lunch where Derek primarily talked baseball – the Toronto Blue Jays – and boats – Benita owned a cabin cruiser he docked at the Marina Hemingway. Finally Osorio, Coro, and Manuel led him on a tour, starting with the vaccine research laboratories in Building 1. Derek noted the building’s security – a barcode reader that read the badge, a uniformed and security guard sitting behind a desk just inside the door. Both surmountable, if it should be necessary.
            But he was most interested in a building deeper in the complex. Toward the end of the day, having only seen two buildings – but interviewed dozens of people – he had pointed to a more utilitarian building. Concrete, very few windows, a more complicated entrance that suggested higher levels of security. “What’s that building?”
            Manuel, a short, thin man with receding black hair and thick glasses, a beak of a nose and a carefully groomed and greased mustache he seemed very proud of, hesitated before saying, “A vaccine manufacturing facility.”
            “I’d like to see it.”
            “Perhaps tomorrow,” Osorio said. “I believe it’s time to go.”
            Derek shook hands and was escorted out of the complex. Coro was very quiet. Osorio, dropping him off at the hotel, said, “Tomorrow morning, Doctor Hamill. Have a good night.”
            Coro looked up, as if remembering that she had a job to do. “Dinner?”
            “I’m really tired tonight,” Derek said with a smile. “I think I’ll just have something light here at the hotel, write up a draft of my report and get some sleep.”
            She looked almost relieved. Osorio didn’t look pleased, however. They said their goodbyes and Derek went in, bypassing going up to his room and instead went to the hotel bar, set his briefcase down beside him and ordered a beer. The bartender was a blond woman in her twenties.
            He said, “There was a bartender here yesterday. I think her name was Maria. When does she come on duty?”
            The young woman’s eyes grew round and she glanced nervously around. Shaking her head, she said, “She’s not here any more.” And then, for the first time since being in Cuba, he saw someone make a gesture he had been warned about – she raised a hand to her chin and pulled the hand down, as if she was stroking a beard. In being briefed for this mission, he had been told that many everyday Cubans did not like to mention Fidel Castro’s name aloud, so they used the hand-to-beard gesture to signify his – or the government’s – presence. Usually in a Big Brother Is Watching kind of way.
            She gave him his beer and hurried away, as if just asking about Maria had been in some 

way contaminating or dangerous.

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