Dressed in his usual business attire of a dark gray suit, white shirt, and red tie, Bill Carmichael parked his BMW and entered his office, placing his briefcase on his desk. Before he could unbutton his suit jacket, his assistant Nicholas Collini, and secretary Lillian Temple had allowed themselves into his office.
‘The press is ready for your statement before you board the plane tomorrow,’ Nicholas told Bill. Nicholas was an all-business and no-small-talk kind of guy who was considerably shorter than Bill and bald down the center of his head. His small-guy complex enabled him to be pushed around by nobody.
Bill sat down in his leather chair. ‘I still don’t have all my notes organized.’ Lately, Bill’s notes usually consisted of defensive statements written for him by several large corporations and the Industry Sector Advisory Committees. As public disdain grew for the World Trade Organization, conveniently referred to as the WTO, so also did the time allocated to defending it.
‘Sir, here is the information you asked for.’ Lillian placed the newest edition of a travel guide for Malaysia on his desk. ‘Planning on doing some sightseeing while you’re there?’
‘It’s for my daughter Julie.’
‘I hope her being there won’t distract you,’ Nicholas warned with concern. He had heard about Julie’s arguments with her father over the WTO’s disregard for labor and human rights. Nicholas felt that Julie was becoming a bit too outspoken about her father’s associations. She might start an argument with her dad during the trip and Nicholas would have to stand between them and then calm Bill down afterwards.
‘Nick. She was born there. I promised to take her to Malaysia. Now that the WTO is meeting in Kuala Lumpur, it’s the perfect opportunity for her. I just wish I wasn’t so busy.’ In fact, planning for this day was what saved Bill from being overcome with grief. For a while it looked like Julie would be the one to breakdown, nearly not making it through her senior year of high school. In reality, she got him through the sadness of losing his love of twenty-one years.
The subject of going to Malaysia hardly came up before his wife Lucille passed. A month after the funeral though she came to his bedroom, while he was lying in bed in the fetal position, and asked about when they could visit Malaysia. He raised his head when she asked. That was the beginning of Bill’s recovery. Julie had a goal, a desire. And that became his desire. He wanted to take her there. But the recovery was just beginning.
‘You have to be really alert for these talks,’ Nicholas warned again. ‘After the fiascos in Seattle and Switzerland, you need--’
‘Everything’s going to be fine, Nick,’ Bill interrupted. ‘Julie promised she wouldn’t argue with me about my job if I took her.’
‘She’s a big girl now,’ Lillian said, glancing at Nicholas. ‘Besides, she probably wants to know more about her roots.’
Nicholas and Bill marched out of the office and into a special conference room prepared for the hosting of several local, national, and international members of the press. Today the only journalists there were ones that focused on economics, business, trade, and finance. Bill headed straight for the podium.
‘Wednesday’s global free trade talks in Kuala Lumpur will without a doubt be a success,’ Bill began without even greeting the participants. ‘American businesses will be able to trade more freely in several Southeast Asian nations. I am honored to be able to make this visit and be involved in the World Trade Organization talks. Are there any questions?’
‘Mr. Carmichael? How much will you stress the issue of piracy of American and Western intellectual property rights on this trip?’
‘You can be assured,’ Bill answered, ‘that will be one of the main concerns that I will raise during the talks. Much has already been accomplished, but the countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must do more to stop piracy, which has caused an enormous amount of loss for publishers and distributors here in the U.S. and worldwide. Malaysia, of course, has a sui generis system, a legal system suited to the country’s own social and political conditions. Their particular system needs to be analyzed carefully to make sure it falls in line with the global community’s aims for a free trade system. However, my meeting with Asian and other leaders will still focus mainly on trade.’ Bill reached the point he wanted to make: ‘Malaysia’s large surplus means that its markets must be more open to foreign investment.’
Bill liked to make a strong direct statement and then exit the podium, but just as he turned to leave, another journalist shouted a question.
‘Mr. Carmichael, do you expect protests against the WTO as happened in Seattle and Switzerland?’
Just the question Bill didn’t want. The last talks he attended were famous for the number of protestors charging the WTO with apathy, or worse still, animosity, towards the environment. Seattle had erupted into rioting and clashes with police due to strong dislike of the WTO. Bill was a trade diplomat, not an image consultant. But he knew before the riots were even over, he would have to go on an image promoting tour, defending the organization wherever he went. Fortunately, he already had those notes prepared for the international press in Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, he had left them in his office before coming to meet these reporters.
Bill stopped but didn’t immediately turn around. Nicholas nodded for him to return to the podium. Bill put on his image-promoting smile, then turned and braced himself, holding onto the sides of the podium.
‘No, I don’t expect any trouble,’ he answered.
Another journalist interrupted before Bill could continue with rehearsed defense. ‘Then why does the World Trade Organization continue to shoot down environmental protections legislated by its member nations, calling them barriers to trade? Wasn’t that the reason for the protests in Seattle?’
‘Please, the WTO is not hostile towards the environment. The protesters’ charges are unfounded. If you have any more questions, Mr. Collini will be able to take them. Thank you.’ Bill grinned as he walked offstage, handing it over to a shocked Nicholas who took the podium and pointed to a reporter.
The benefit of taking an overseas trip is being able to come home early from the office the day before leaving. But for Bill, this meant more time to think about the long journey to Southeast Asia. If he could keep busy then he wouldn’t have to think about the plane flight. The trick was to save all the packing until the night before departure. This would help keep his mind occupied, and maybe even slightly frustrated for the remainder of the evening.
Bill arrived at his suburban D.C. home and walked up to the front door carrying his briefcase in one hand and the Malaysian travel guide in the other. He opened the door, walked in, and was swiftly greeted with a hug by his eighteen-year-old daughter Julie.
‘Whoa. What’s this for?’
‘Just a thank you for what you’re doing for me.’
‘A guy my age doesn’t travel with a cute little eighteen-year old Asian girl unless he can accept the stares, sneers, and thumbs up,’ Bill joked.
‘Dad, that statement is wrong on so many levels. Gross. What are you thinking?’
‘Hey, it’s not me. It’s society. I’m just saying that I was having second thoughts a few weeks ago because I’m going to be a lousy traveling companion.’
‘Well, anyway, I knew you’d let me go.’
‘I was afraid I wouldn’t have any time to spend with you. But maybe some time alone the first day or two will be good for you. I hope you’ve had enough time to pack and buy what you need.’
‘I bought what I needed a long time ago,’ Julie said. ‘And I started packing two days ago.’
Bill turned his attention to the TV. After finding CNN he handed the guidebook to Julie. ‘Here you go, sweetheart.’
‘Oh, thank you Daddy. I packed your suitcases too, by the way.’
‘Now you’re overdoing it.’ Bill was thinking about how he now had nothing to do for the evening but to sit and think about his trip.
‘I’m not over anxious,’ Julie quickly retorted. ‘I’m just so thrilled to be able to go and see where I came from.’
Bill went to his reclining chair and sat down to see the news. ‘What if you like it there so much that you decide to stay?’ he asked her, but his focus was on CNN, not on his daughter.
‘Come off it, Dad.’ She eased onto the armrest of the sofa and crossed her ankles as her feet rested on the raised footstool. ‘I wouldn’t do that. But I’m adopted. I’m Asian. I’m different from other adopted kids. Their parents can keep from telling them. You can’t hide it from me. Besides, you can’t live alone. You need me for support.’
Bill glanced up at her. He was about to say something to continue their playful, teasing talk, but his mood suddenly dropped. It had only been eight months. There were days where he could uplift himself. Happiness and joy were fleeting.
Julie saw his countenance change. She waited to see if the ugly cloud of depression was going to overcome the household again.
Bill didn’t speak. He turned his attention to the TV again, ignoring his daughter.
She slowly slipped off the edge of the sofa and headed for the kitchen. ‘Sara has dinner on the stove. I’ll set the table,’ she said, referring to their part-time housekeeper and cook.
Julie studied her dad as she walked toward the kitchen’s swinging door. When she saw that he was not going to come out of his funk, she disappeared through the door.
He had the TV tuned to CNN. The correspondent Christine Larson was standing in the middle of the conference room where Bill had spoken, but it must have been the aftermath of the conference because only news crews were in the room, and they were packing up their equipment behind the correspondent.
‘Tomorrow morning, U.S. trade diplomat William Carmichael will head for the World Trade Organization talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. According to Mr. Carmichael, he will stress two main points. First, to stop the piracy of intellectual property and second, for countries within ASEAN to widen their markets to foreign investment and trade. However, Mr. Carmichael avoided questions concerning the main criticisms of the WTO, namely environmental destruction and the push to accept China into the organization, despite cries from human-rights supporters. Mr. Carmichael will have the responsibility of trying to keep the talks as scandal free as possible.’
‘That’s terrible!’ Bill dropped the remote control on the couch after switching off the television.
Julie rushed from the kitchen. ‘Dad, did you say something?’ she asked hopefully.
‘I’m upset because they didn’t show me on camera.’ Bill said smartly as he followed Julie back into the kitchen and took his place at the small table. They preferred the antique table that sat in a quaint little nook by the windows rather than the large formal dining room. He started picking at the salad.
‘Are you sure?’ he asked.
‘That you’ll be okay in Malaysia,’ Bill said.
Julie slumped in her seat. When her father started to slip from her into one of his odd moods, he became unsure and anxious. ‘Yes. Stop worrying.’
Bill checked the table to make sure everything was set. ‘You never know what someone might do to influence what I say or promise other nations. And some of the documents I carry are sensitive.’
‘What time will the limousine come to pick us up?’ she asked cheerily.
‘Five a.m.,’ he said dryly.
‘No problem. I doubt I’ll get to sleep tonight. I’ll read the book you just gave me. My guidebook is several years old. Countries like that change all the time, right? Constantly developing, as you like to say, right? Dad?’
He chewed a piece of lettuce and did not respond.
‘Don’t forget to pack toilet paper in your carry on, Dad,’ Julie said straight-faced but found it too difficult to hold her laughter. Her father carried a roll of toilet paper without the center tube because he often got the ‘nervous shits’ while flying. It never stopped him from traveling, but he had to go at inopportune times. She was hoping to see a spark in him, a giggle, a rebuke, anything. But he gave her nothing.