A sullen, doleful expression accompanies Benita’s tentative traversal between speaking into her phone then staring at it absently while contemplating a string of events that have congealed to form the absolute worst day of her life.
A photo of Van stares lovingly back at her. Touching the screen, she whispers so quietly it is barely audible even to her, “Eu te amo, meu namorado lindo.” Whereas lust, greed, envy, and jealousy had all failed to tempt her over the course of her lifetime – pride had finally succeeded. Any guilt or regret she feels has been swallowed by anger. It was wrong for her to ignore Van for so long. It was also wrong for her to misdirect her indignation onto him. She had no right confronting him today as though the world’s problems, as she perceives them, are all somehow his responsibility. The awful truth is that she has only herself to blame for this situation. Now she must take care not to allow rage its victory, too.
When Benita first met Alfonzo Taxmoore on Isla Paradiso, he revealed the concept that injustices are perpetuated by the privileged over the pigmented. His ideas resonated with her and she became easily drawn into his fold. Even before she left the island, she had become convinced that Van was complicit by virtue of his genetic lack of skin tone and biological predispositions alone. Van represents the enemy; a faceless, soulless, white, patriarchal anathema. He and the million others like him are the reason why people suffer. She stares wistfully at his photo again. How can this be true? She knows him and she loves him. He would remove his own shirt to cover anyone who was in need. The collision of conflicting thoughts and feelings has left her numb inside. Alfonzo claims to be motivated by love and tolerance …but this feels more like blind hatred, instead.
Since joining Alfonzo, Benita has overachieved on every task and responsibility assigned to her. He once described her goal-oriented ambition as fearless and, at times, carnivorous. To reward her success, the governor had entrusted Benita with an important responsibility. Anne Morris is an influential woman who sits on the board of directors of a large conglomeration of hospitals. She was visiting SimCity to attend a political fund-raising banquet. Although Benita had never met the woman, she specifically asked for Benita to accompany her to the event. Alfonzo emphasized the need for diplomacy and warned Benita to be mindful of the fact that Ann’s expectations would likely involve more than a simple business engagement. He suggested that Benita should prepare for the event as though it were a date with the likelihood of an overnight rendezvous. There was no mistaking what Alfonzo was asking her to do.
After initially balking at the idea, Alfonzo asked Benita to consider doing it as a personal favor to him. He sent her to lunch early and asked her to carefully reconsider her answer. Her friend, Marcus, was quick to advise her that turning and walking away from this was the best option. Her gut instinct agreed with him. She returned from lunch prepared to gracefully decline Anne’s invitation. But Alfonzo always seems to have a way of getting what he wants. Ann is a political ally and a strategic, progressive bellwether. To sweeten the deal, the Governor offered to personally allocate a generous monetary contribution to the research institute housed in Isla Paradiso’s hospital. Delivering the check to Ann would go a long way to help a lot of sims in need. Though it was tantamount to prostitution, Benita could not allow her own selfishness stand in the way of helping struggling sims on her island. Against her better judgment and contrary to Marcus’ dire warnings, Benita reluctantly agreed. Looking back, she realizes she should have listened to Marcus and his prediction that disaster was the only possible outcome.
She borrowed Marcus’ car, as not to show up to the classy event driving a rolling junk heap. Ann was waiting for her at the front door. She was an attractive woman who wore her middle-age quite well. Genetics had blessed Benita with a solid metabolism but not the motivation for exercise and fitness. To the contrary, Anne was fit and tone and boasted a surgically augmented figure. Her artificially colored, jet-black hair was complimented with a slinky suit chosen specifically to showcase her unusually pale and heavily tattooed skin. Ann had effectively hidden the aging process everywhere but her tired, gray eyes – which betrayed both her age and unhealthy excesses of emotional exhaustion and strain. It was evident that Ann had already consumed a staggering combination of prescription drugs, wine, and mixed drinks before Benita arrived.
Benita was on her heels from the moment Ann introduced herself. She was unprepared for the forceful personality and contrived, “bubbly teenager” persona. She remained silent while attempting to process how to react to Ann’s brash flirtation. Impaired sobriety and unfamiliarity with Benita’s native language exasperated Ann’s uncoordinated attempts to woo the younger woman with suggestive terms of endearment local to Isla Paradiso. Benita became so uneasy for a time, that Ann took notice and offered up a few of her prescription pills to help her relax.
Moving inside the restaurant did not improve the dynamics, as they struggled to find any sort of common ground. Ann immediately voiced a blanket disinterest in any church-related topics after Benita attempted to describe the difference between Marcus’ church and her own on Isla Paradiso. And when Benita began to talk about Marcus and his workout regimen, Ann also voiced her disinterest in talking about men. Benita exercised slightly more decorum and did her best to act politely engaged through Ann’s explanation of the meaning behind each of her numerous tattoos. After a number of other awkward misfires during the meal, the topic of conversation eventually settled on something they both had in common – Alfonzo.
Ann grew increasingly more impatient and aggressive with her advances after the meal. In the absence of any friendly chemistry, Benita talked business. This, in turn, prompted Ann to drink more or have another pill. It was an ugly situation. When the banquet finally ended, Ann delivered an uncomplimentary critique of Benita’s dull personality and offered her an opportunity to correct the problem with woohoo back at the hotel.
Benita panicked. She knew this was coming, but she panicked nonetheless. Benita had never been with anyone. It almost happened on a few occasions with Marcus. In her heart, she had always hoped it would eventually be with Van. One thing was certain – there was no chance in Strangetown her first time was going to be with an intoxicated woman she had met only a few hours ago. Benita successfully delayed the response after remembering Alfonzo’s donation. She recited the speech he had asked her to practice and delivered it perfectly. Ann’s demeanor shifted dramatically at the scent of money, which caught Benita somewhat off-guard. She was clearly more impressed with the number on the check than she was with Benita’s pitch.
Ann had become nearly unconscious from her overconsumption of medication and drink. Yet somehow, she still managed to speak. She winked at Benita, explaining that the blood drawn from both Resnic and the lifeguard had been quietly disposed before toxicology could be run on them – just as Joan had requested. Ann continued by commenting how the lifeguard nearly bled out from a gash on his leg. Ultimately, the universe would have celebrated another hateful, white, male bigot being wiped out of existence. But Isla Paradiso is small. Losing blood samples is common enough to escape scrutiny. Law enforcement on the island still remains problematic, however, and falsifying a DOA would have raised too many questions – even if the doctors could have been monetarily persuaded to keep quiet about it.
Benita’s anxiety had already spiked, but hearing Ann talk about Van with such casual disregard caused it to finally reach a crescendo. Benita’s vision turned red and Van’s name erupted on its own volition, followed by a litany of prayers in her native language. Ann was shocked and seemed rather cogent for being mostly drunk. She asked how Benita knew the lifeguard’s name, and why she was so upset about it. Despite the known consequences, Benita was unable to prevent herself from spilling out the angry words, “ele é meu namorado! …He is my boyfriend!”
This triggered the landslide. Despite Benita’s reaction being completely involuntary, or perhaps because if it, whatever frail personal or professional rapport the two women had built, instantly crumbled. Ann turned viciously on Benita, accusing her, and Alfonzo by association, of deception and treachery. She stormed angrily out of the building, threatening to expose Alfonzo’s “nasty little game”. After it was over, Benita did the only thing she could think to do. She called Van …another disaster.
Moving to SimCity was a culture shock for Benita. Thankfully, she met Marcus early during the transition. He is a strategist at the Governor’s finance office; a numbers genius with a gift for understanding the complicated world of international banking. They’ve worked together on projects that are too sensitive for common aides or assistants. As a result, they’ve developed a very close relationship. Professional and personal loyalty to the Governor has served them both very well. Driven by Taxmoore’s charismatic presence, she and Marcus have tirelessly researched obscure legal rulings and filed strategic litigations and injunctions preventing the governor’s ideological opponents from obstructing necessary progress. Nothing or nobody opposes Alfonzo Taxmoore on his own turf. But Isla Paradiso is not his turf …and it has therefore become his largest and most taciturn project.
Benita realizes that her experience and knowledge of the island is a highly guarded and valued commodity. She also realizes there is something more happening below the surface. Her willfully apathetic justification of illegal and immoral activities committed in the name of “progress” should be more troubling than the activities themselves. However, her role in this politically groundbreaking movement provides an intoxicating sense of domination which overpowers any thought of objection. It reminds her of the time she was finally old enough to windsurf with Van. It was an exhilarating thrill – and she didn’t want the feeling of excitement to stop.
Save for returning Marcus’ car then driving home, Benita has nothing more planned for tonight. And yet, somehow, she finds herself in Marcus’ living room, embracing him a short while later. He listens attentively while she rants about the evening, never once gloating about heeding his warning. He does express his confusion regarding her decision to participate in such an arrangement, knowing what was expected of her. Alfonzo had given her the opportunity to decline and she did not. Benita admits that she doesn’t completely understand why, herself. All she knows is that when the time came, she drew that same line in the sand she has always drawn; regardless of who was on the other side of it. She admits to Marcus that holding onto celibacy while immersed in a cultural climate that does not readily tolerate the spirit of the concept, has left her feeling overdrawn and battle weary. She is exhausted – and his arms feel like a very good place to rest. Truthfully, after tonight’s debacle, she has neither the strength nor the desire to continue holding the line.
Marcus is a good friend with a gentle and loving demeanor. He’s smart, devoted, and would likely be an excellent father. Having made her decision, she quietly takes his hand and confidently walks with him past the line in the sand and into the crashing ocean waves where she swims with him for hours until they finally emerge together onto the shore and lounge in the sun’s glowing warmth.
But there is a sadness that follows, now that the line in the sand is gone. It is an empty, remorseful feeling. Pride and rage had both claimed their victories today. Lust now takes its place celebrating triumphantly alongside them.
Rental scuba gear and second-hand equipment is all Van has ever been able to afford while working as a lifeguard. When Corinth arrives with new equipment supplied by the DuPont family, Van is rendered speechless. It is the most advanced and highest quality merchandise available anywhere. Amazingly, they are simply giving it to him. Happy to see he had done well, Corinth admits to having contacted fellow scientists at the Oceanographic Institute and gathering input needed to assemble the impressive collection. Van whistles his amazement and approval. The DuPont’s must have spent a fortune.
The morning sun blazes its path across the sky while Corinth and Van travel toward the dive site. Neither man had returned here since the rescue, though Corinth is clearly more unsettled than Van. Corinth idles the engines then drops anchor and stands quietly for a short time after turning off the motor. While checking his gear, Van comes to the realization that Corinth will likely have to see Linda’s deteriorated remains today. Van offers to call in a friend to assist if Corinth changes his mind about seeing her in that condition. Corinth shakes his head, then states with a shaken voice that he’s been preparing himself for days.
Van descends to a sea floor littered with the remnants of many lost vessels; some hundreds of years old. Dangerous, hidden crags and numerous interconnecting caves provide scenery unlike anything else Isla Paradiso has to offer. Its beauty is evenly matched by its lethality. Among the other dangers, it is also an abundant feeding ground for sharks. Linda is not the only scuba diver to have lost her life here. Van finds the cave Corinth marked on his map. The spot is still littered with bits of gear from previous attempts to find Linda. Fortunately, Van has navigated these caves before and has a pretty good sense of where Linda was when her tanks ran out of air.
Van discovers Linda’s remains exactly where he suspected she would be found. Something Benita had mentioned during her call has lingered in the back of his mind. If Benita is right, and she usually is, everything here could be considered evidence. He is careful not to disturb anything. He takes many photos of the scene while cautiously preserving every detail before beginning his gruesome job. If anything, the ocean is very efficient. Little else is left besides bone, hair, clothing, and jewelry. When he finds Linda’s underwater notebook, an odd feeling suggests it may be safer with him for the time being. He hesitates before deciding to stash it away inside his harness. After collecting everything he can find, Van seals the hard case containing Linda’s remains and belongings then begins his slow ascent back to the surface.
Van finds Corinth inside the church cemetery standing in quiet contemplation beside Linda’s tombstone.
He does not approach until Corinth turns to greet him. The pervasive frown that Van had come to associate with the man has softened considerably. His overall demeanor seems somewhat less brooding and heavy. He thanks Van for returning her. After reminiscing awhile about how he and Linda met, then describing some of her finer qualities, Corinth laments that he wishes he cold have done things differently. He has replayed the scenario a hundred times in his head. He felt sick and disoriented during the entire dive and he kept gesturing for Linda to return to the surface. Their tanks were nearly empty, but she did not seem at all concerned. Corinth shrugs. Even after all this time has passed, he is still unable to reconcile the facts with the outcome.
Corinth’s eyebrows rise and his expression brightens slightly upon remembering the package Linda’s relatives had asked him to deliver to Van. He smiles broadly, handing Van a fancy, sealed envelope. Corinth explains the DuPont family had taken the liberty of doing some background research on Van before turning over such a large sum of money. They were very impressed with the manner in which he had worked to pay off his adoptive guardians’ bad debts. Every sim Corinth interviewed spoke of Van with glowing praise. Corinth was specifically impressed with his roommate’s extremely heartfelt testimonial. Van opens the envelope, unsure whether to be honored or creeped-out. He reads the contents of the package and is struck silent.
Corinth continues, explaining that the DuPont family had managed to call in a few favors. All financial obligations and liens on the property, which had recently been submitted to foreclosure for nonpayment, have been paid in full. The property’s title (which was unusually difficult to secure) has been transferred to the DuPont estate. The family has established a legal trust through which they will remain beneficial owners in perpetuity. Van, or a designated descendant in his absence, shall remain legal trustees of the property. Simply put, the property now belongs solely to Van. Additionally, the family has founded a local construction business that will employ no fewer than twenty locals. Their first project will be a complete remodel of Van’s home. Van attempts to smile but fails through his shock and dismay. Quite honestly, he’s almost breathless; though he does somehow manage to give Corinth his thanks. Corinth claps Van on the back, telling him that he’s a good man and that no thanks are necessary.
As for the DuPont family, his continuing to live a virtuous life is thanks enough for them.