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Leaving Panama’s Paradise: From the Canal Zone to California

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I love a good story. What I love more is a good story that gives me a little something extra, a lagniappe, as the Louisiana French might say. That’s just what I got with Julie Bawden-Davis’s debut novel. Mystery, romance, suspense–and a little history lesson about the Panama Canal Zone in the 1970s. 

About the Book
Raised in the Canal Zone, Panama, Jesse McMillan never planned on leaving the tropical paradise. But signing of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties in 1977 catapulted him from the American territory to California, where he became an investigative reporter. Exposing a Southern California crack cocaine epidemic in 1989, Jesse finds himself enmeshed with an elusive Mexican mafia drug cartel figure. Panama also makes news when the US upends the country hunting down its military dictator, Manuel Noriega, for drug trafficking.
 
Shaking up Jesse’s world in a welcome way and making sparks fly, he reunites with Clare, a girlfriend from the Canal Zone. As Jesse’s romance heats up and he continues his increasingly dangerous investigations, a disturbing and potentially deadly connection between his childhood home in Panama and the Mexican mafia emerges. Jesse races to expose truths, uncovering shocking secrets about Canal Zone friends. In the process, he makes peace with leaving Panama.
 
Information about the Series
The Discovered Truth Series consists of romantic suspense novels featuring complex, gutsy women and equally complicated, charismatic men who find themselves immersed in dangerous and intriguing modern-day challenges such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, national security threats and identity theft.  When the heroine and hero meet, worlds collide and sparks fly, kindling unforgettable romance and intrigue.  (The series progresses as minor characters introduced in each book become main characters in subsequent books.) 

Buy on Amazon

 
A Look Inside the Book

PROLOGUE

Panama Canal Zone, June 1977

The rain pelted the bohío’s thatched roof, and Jesse McMillan sighed as the humidity seeped into his pores. For a microsecond, the midday tropical storm stilled the aching in his gut, but the wrenching on his insides returned as he watched through the liquid curtain the tropical land he loved and would soon lose. How he wanted to stand here forever. At least until someone told him Carter wouldn’t sign the treaty that would take away his home.

Hearing a cough, Jesse turned to find Randy Strickland shaking himself off and wiping wisps of red hair out of his face.

“Earth to Jesse! I walked right by you. Where the hell were you?” Randy asked.

Jesse shrugged. “Nowhere.”

“Sometimes I worry.”

“You, worry? Yeah, right,” Jesse said and snorted.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Randy pulled a rumpled Marlboro pack out of his jeans pocket and extracted a joint. “I’m a serious individual.”

Jesse ignored Randy’s lame stab at humor. “Any word from Sam?”

“No. He’s probably hiding out with some buddies and won’t come out until the heat’s off.”

Jesse leaned on the edge of the picnic table that sat under the bohío, gazing out at the gauzy, green landscape. “It’s been three weeks, Randy. He’s probably hidden deep in a Panamanian jail, or maybe he’s tied to cement blocks in the canal.”

“Don’t talk that way, man. You can be a real downer.” Randy took two deep tokes of the joint and offered it to Jesse.

“No, thanks.” Jesse fanned the sweet smell of marijuana out of his face.

Randy raised his eyebrows. “Look, you worry too much. Everything’s under control. Sam will be back soon. I know it.”

“You don’t worry enough,” said Jesse. “You’re playing it way too close.”

Randy’s thin face puckered as he took another toke. Half-moons rimmed the underside of his eyes from late nights partying.

“Listen, as soon as Sam gets back, our operation will be back to normal.”

“Nothing is ever going to be back to normal,” said Jesse.

“You mean the treaty? Things won’t change that much. It’ll be business as usual. Once a Zonian, always a Zonian. Right?”

Jesse opened his mouth to answer, but shut it. Randy obviously didn’t feel the same fist in his heart. He wasn’t on the same brakeless, downhill ride Jesse had been on ever since they heard about the treaty signing.

“Your problem is that you’re just too stressed out, Jess. Stay mellow. Things will be cool. You’ll see,” Randy intoned as he blew a fat, clumsy smoke ring into the heavy air.

The sky rumbled, making conversation impossible. Just as well. Jesse watched transfixed as rain thrashed the leaves of a nearby palm tree, announcing that things would never be the same.
 
About the Author
Julie Bawden-Davis is a bestselling journalist and author of “Leaving Panama’s Paradise: From the Canal Zone to California”and “Avocado Flowers: From the Orchards of California to the Streets of Mexico”. During her youth as a “Navy brat,” she had the world-expanding experience of living in several states in the US, as well as overseas. Today, she makes her home in Southern California, where she enjoys the year-round gardening climate. 
 
Follow Julie on Twitter @jbawdendavis;
Like her at https://www.facebook.com/jbawdendavis
Email her at Julie@JulieBawdenDavis.com
Visit her at http://www.JulieBawdenDavis.com
Sign up to join her Email Mailing List to get sneak peeks of upcoming books and hear about contests and giveaways

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck on Sticky Notes

People often ask me where I get ideas for my essays? Well, this one came during the cool down after a Zumba class. In between calling out commands to stretch our calf muscles, our young instructor lamented that she’s starting to forget things. “I’m now dependent on sticky notes to keep my life in order,” she groaned as we relaxed the biceps in our upper arms. She feared her gray matter was having too many gray moments.

Nervous laughter swept through the class of 20, all over the age of 40-something. In between exhales, I smiled and gave her a knowing nod. I’ve survived for years thanks to sticky notes, to-do lists and e-mail reminders. My motto: The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory.

stickynote-pencil-copy-rotatedI’ve made peace with having to write everything down. In fact, I had to write down the idea for this column as soon as I got home from class, or I would have forgotten it. Many in my circle of girlfriends share this malady. We’ve discovered that as life gets busier, it’s harder and harder to remember simple things. We rack our brains to recall the name of an actor we saw in a movie last night. Wonder if we left the milk on the counter. We forget where we put car keys, cell phones, and sometimes for a moment or two, even our kids.

I used to fret about losing my memory, but I don’t any more. With age-earned wisdom, I liken sporadic forgetfulness to a baseball catcher’s overload. With a job, a husband, kids, a grandchild, dogs and a book club, there are simply too many balls to snatch. The less urgent stuff – buying stamps, taking out the trash or fertilizing the roses — occasionally drops out of my mitt. That’s not a sign that dementia is my next stop on life’s train ride.

There’s no shame in relying on a system – even if it’s made up of colorful scraps of paper — to help you remember to turn off the flatiron or pick up poster board at the drug store. There are lots of mornings I jot down a to-do list before I’ve gotten out of bed. I stash a pad and pencil in my nightstand drawer for that reason. Random notes to remind me to: e-mail Sue about a book I just finished; figure out what movie theaters are near Houston before I buy a gift card for my nephew or pull the pot roast out of the freezer so we can eat before 8 o’clock tonight.

So what if I can’t remember the name of Sue Grafton’s newest book (X) or the collective term for a group of turtles (a dole). I’ve already apologized to my teammates for our third place finish in last month trivia challenge. I should have remembered the book title. I don’t think I ever knew the turtle term, though.

For decades my head’s CPU has been bombarded with information. My computer-like brain is always on the job, processing data gathered from my thousands of days on this earth. When I was 12, it was so much easier. I barely had a decade of life under my belt. Twelve years of fact and fiction to keep straight. Maybe three contemporary U.S. Presidents and four Beatles to remember. There was lots of room in my head to memorize state capitals, multiplication tables and words for a spelling test. Homework was my brainteaser. If there was something important I needed to do, my Mom reminded me. Back then I had maybe 90 people in my life, including schoolmates, aunts, uncles and TV characters. Nowadays, more folks than that follow me on Twitter.

As the years pile up, so does the minutia. Names, places, computer programs, all vying for a spot in the mind’s filing cabinet. It’s an ongoing battle to determine what’s worth remembering, what can be retrieved by a Google search and what to delete from your cerebral hard drive. No one keeps track of everything. And why would we want to when there are notepads, calendars and other memory-saving shortcuts at our beck-and-call?

More power to those of us who’ve joyfully embraced our yellow and pink sticky notes as a white flag of surrender. We fight back by keeping our minds sharp and our pencils sharper. There was one more thing I was going to add, but I forgot what it was. Guess I should have written it down.

 

 

 

Sitting at the Big Table

As November 26th gets closer, lots of us are spending time in preparation and anticipation. We’re busy comparing prices for frozen turkeys, finding grandma’s recipe for cranberry sauce and ordering chiffon pumpkin pies. We’ve assigned a favorite aunt the task of bringing the green bean casserole and asked our neighbor if he has folding chairs we can borrow. All of this organization is necessary to carry out our vision of the perfect holiday dinner; one that merits a symphony of satisfied after-dinner sighs that continue long after the wishbone has been pulled. But to me, these details are secondary. While many of you are dusting off your crystal and sharpening the carving knife, my energies are spent on how to fit 19 and a highchair at a table that comfortably accommodates 10.

Everyone who’s coming to Thanksgiving dinner at my house sits at one table, no matter how long, awkward and cumbersome that table turns out to be. Some therapists might consider this fixation of mine a character flaw — one that traces its beginnings back to my childhood. An unnecessary expenditure of energy that I should have resolved over the years. “Just set up an extra table for the kids,” they would advise “and don’t worry about it.” But I do worry and I worry a lot.

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I’m the youngest of four children. The baby of the family. Over the years, I’ve been placed at the children’s table a time or two, or twenty. And to this day, I’m still a bit sensitive about where I sit during holiday meals. So much so, that when Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is held at my house, I make every effort to link as many tables as it takes for everyone to sit together. The banquet often spans the length of my dining room and encroaches well into our kitchen/TV room.

Why such a campaign against a kids’ table? It has a lot to do with the age span between my older siblings and me. Some say I was a surprise addition, born about a dozen years after the then youngest, Paul. My brothers and sister are more than a decade older than I am. It’s no wonder that they’ve treated me like a child instead of a peer. So when the seating at the dining room table became snug, it was easy for mom to demote me to the kids’ table to feast with my nieces and nephews.

Sitting at a card table or a coffee table located closer to the garage than the formal dining room magnified the fact that I wasn’t on the A (adult) list. The “kids” were out of earshot of the grown-ups. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about but I knew it had to be better than discussing Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoons or Romper Room’s magic mirror.

My complaints fell on deaf ears. “You’re going to eat the same things we are,” came the calming retort. It didn’t matter. I was still ticked. This was an unfair division of family. I wasn’t one of the kids even though I was 11 (technically eligible for the child’s discount at the movies). I was Aunt Claire. So what if I was barely five years older than my oldest nephew. I was still an aunt, not a child. I demanded the status that was rightfully mine.

I wanted to sit at the table with the stemware, not the Tupperware. To be closer to the turkey platter and gravy boat than the chocolate milk and bibs. I envisioned myself eating off the nice plates and drinking my apple cider out of a goblet instead of a jelly jar. At least that’s what I claimed.

Truth be told, mostly, I just wanted to be near my big brothers and sister. They were grown and out of the house. Their lives were busy, raising families of their own. On these special days, they were back home and I wanted their attention. I wanted to fit in with the adults. I was too young to know that time passes quickly and once you’ve grown up, you’re an adult for a long, long time. Sitting at the kids’ table might not have been such bad thing.

Fortunately, the emotional scars I’ve endured from the years of sitting at the little table were fleeting. At holiday meals, I now focus on happy moments like “Who ate the marshmallows off the sweet potato casserole?” On occasion, I’ve even fought back the urge to seat my siblings at a rickety folding table near the refrigerator.

We youngsters from the kids’ table now have children and grandchildren of our own. The dilemma of making room for everyone continues to challenge my creativity. I hold fast to my desire for us all to be at one long, connecting surface, even if that means bringing the redwood picnic table in from outside. But there are no complaints. Any day that finds me surrounded by more family than I have chairs to accommodate, is a day that I happily give thanks for.

 

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