Spoiler alert! - Read Chapter 2
Looking out her window at Esperanza Bay and the steep black cliffs of Isla Fantasma in the blue of the Sea of Cortez, Gloria Vanderfall could not believe her good fortune in securing the directorship of Natura’s Baja, Mexico program. Aside from the feel-good factor of saving the environment, the job had many perks including a fourteen hundred square foot rooftop apartment on the Malecón boardwalk with a view of the Sea of Cortez, a brand new SUV, and a steady paycheck for a sum greatly exceeding the demands of the job.
Like many in the environmental NGO world, qualified or not, Gloria had arrived at her post through cronyism. As a public relations associate for Basic Oil, she had coordinated the company’s public-private partnership with Natura in order to green the company’s image. In exchange for modest donations to various conservation projects, Basic Oil had received an environmental stewardship award as a leader in the industry. With an advertising campaign of glossy brochures and feel good commercials highlighting their contribution to the environment, the oil company was able to shake its negative image as a major polluter with a record of safety and human rights violations.
While coordinating the partnership, Gloria had been invited on several private donor tours for conservation projects Basic Oil was supporting. Experiencing pristine nature for the first time, and seeing the lifestyle and benefits of working in conservation, Gloria realized she had chosen the wrong career. But fortune smiled on her, when on a tour of a conservation easement in Costa Rica, Gloria was fortunate enough to meet Natura founder and CEO Taylor Rutherford III, to whom she expressed interest in working for the organization.
When the position of philanthropy coordinator came available, Rutherford contacted Gloria and offered her the job. It was a coveted position that, though advertised on the organization’s website and various online job portals, as required by law, was only given to friends or as a favor. For all those environmental studies majors with field experience interning with various organizations, applying was time wasted. The international conservation movement was a mafia: you had to know someone to get in, and the best way to gain influence from the outside was through a crisp donation check.
Regardless of how she had gotten hired, Gloria was good at her job. The same beauty that had captivated Rutherford, worked like a charm on the numerous well-heeled clients she shook down for money. Indeed, even the strongest will was softened and tightest hand opened by a thirty-something, five-eight, svelte, sun-tanned brunette in a bikini diving into crystalline depths that matched her eyes from a private yacht anchored in a remote archipelago of the Coral Triangle.
When Natura opened a new office in Baja, Mexico, Gloria saw it as an opportunity to advance her career. Although the hiring process was competitive and fraught with office politics, her personal relationship with Rutherford again proved decisive in getting her the job. With no formal education in environmental studies and no practical experience with biological assessment, environmental management, or community outreach, Gloria had to admit she was in over her head. As a philanthropy coordinator, she was used to nature as a postcard and backdrop for outdoor recreation. In effect, she had been a tour guide, leading wealthy donors on nature treks, game drives, island cruises, and dive tours in some of the world’s most diverse and beautiful ecosystems. Now, with no expertise, she was in charge of setting up an integrated terrestrial and marine protected area that would include Isla Fantasma and Esperanza Bay.
Fundamentally, Gloria’s interest in the environment was insincere. After a decade spent traveling the world, all she wanted was to enjoy the natural beauty of Esperanza in peace. Like many conservationists, she wanted to protect nature from the crowds, development and pollution of modernity while maintaining exclusive access for herself. At heart she disliked people and could not help but gloat while watching the crimson sunsets from her balcony overlooking the Sea of Cortez, knowing most would never enjoy such a view. Even after arriving a century late in Esperanza, Gloria had the got-there-first mentality; for the same reason the local community looked on her as an interloper, so she perceived those who came after.
Based on her biography, it was no surprise that Gloria was a lonely woman. While playing her professional hand well, middling that it was, she had neglected her emotional and spiritual needs. Though Gloria had been in many relationships with eligible men, some of whom had expressed interest in marrying her, she had ultimately refused them all, in favor of milking it. Accustomed to being the center of attention for wealthy donors, she was having trouble facing the fact that she was aging. Meanwhile, the tick of her biological clock grew louder.
Though still an attractive woman in her forties, she found herself resenting women younger than her. The forties weren’t old, she told herself, and indeed she was blessed with genes that keep her skin supple and smooth. Coupled with generous applications of coconut oil, runs on the beach, and daily workouts in the on-site gym of her condo complex, she looked great. In order to confirm this fact, she pursued younger men. A first-class cougar, ever since her arrival in Esperanza she had stationed herself at El Cangrejo, the hip bar on the Malecón where she would drink margaritas and wait for a one-night-stand, weekend, weekly or monthly fling to come through the door. It was the perfect arrangement; the visiting tourists boosted her ego and disappeared before they became a nuisance. Her most recent quarry, however, was fresh local meat: Rodrigo, the twenty-year-old personal trainer of her complex.