Straddling the storyworlds of Panama, Washington and London, The Expansion follows British-born geomatic engineer Max Burns, whose revolutionary water-saving system wins him the esteemed position of head engineer for one of the 21st century’s most politically contested megaprojects: the expansion of the Panama Canal.
For Max it is a dream come true: not only is he able to work closely with construction giant and old high-school friend Godfredo Roco in one of the most beautiful tropical environments, but it’s the kind of job Max has been working toward his entire career.
Yet in the arena of global trade and diplomacy, stakes are high, and when a senior official of the Panama Canal Administration is found dead, Max finds himself in the frame for sabotage and murder, and at the centre of a web of political intrigue and betrayal that reaches far beyond the idyllic shores of Central America. The only person Max can trust is his new-found love, Karis Deen, a scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Except Karis herself holds a secret that could not only destroy Max, but could change the entire balance of world power.
This is the moment when the protagonist Max Burns’s love interest, Karis Deen, sees Max for the first time after returning to Panama. She’s been away for more than a year, and even though she’s generally a very rational and strong character, she’s actually quite nervous about seeing him again. This is partly because she has feelings for him, but also partly because she is hiding a very big secret from him, and she must remain as neutral as possible!
At the foot of the marble steps, a stone obelisk stood at the center of a large cul-de-sac. Palm trees lined the boulevard that stretched away from the building.
Idly, Karis walked the periphery of the rotunda, where marble busts commemorated great men.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words were there, cast in bronze.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming … who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly …”
“Are you looking for the great women? Because you won’t find them. They were in a different arena.”
Karis turned. Her heart was racing.
“No,” she said, smiling, attempting to keep her voice even. “I was thinking it’s very … I don’t know … dramatic to strive, isn’t it? People seem to like to say they’re striving valiantly.”
Max stopped walking, and she couldn’t read his expression. She wondered if she’d said the wrong thing, right out of the gate. She pressed her lips together, fighting the blush that was rising in her cheeks.
Then Max started laughing. “I once met a great woman who said something very similar,” he said.
“You did?” She felt the doubt lift: this was the Max Burns she knew.
“Sure,” he said, with a grin. “She said, ‘Most of us are doing the best we can.’”
“Wow, she sounds very wise. Would you mind introducing me to her sometime?”
He nodded. “Of course! Except …” his eyes glinted with mischief. “She has this strange habit of disappearing. Just when you think you’ve discovered something amazing …”
Karis felt the laughter rise up inside her, and she stepped toward him, the memory of his arms wrapped around her more vivid, more visceral, than she’d anticipated.
“It’s good to see you, Max.” She was about to embrace him before she came to her senses.
Turning her head, she allowed him to kiss one cheek, and then she stepped back.
How would Max Burns spend his holiday?
A guest post by Christoph Martin
Max Burns is an interesting and perhaps surprising character when it comes to how he might spend his free time. To explain: he originally came from a very rich family who had a country estate in England, but he was orphaned at age 14, so he spent many years learning to survive in the poverty-stricken housing estates of outer London. He’s a geomatic engineer by trade, and he’s a classic example of an ordinary ‘good’ guy who knows how to work hard and dig himself out of deep holes. The down-side to that is, of course, that he tended to bury the fun-loving side to his personality because of the cards life dealt him. So if you were to meet him when he first arrives in Panama, you might think he was a straight-laced, hard worker who never took any time off to enjoy himself at all.
However … when Max reunites with his party-loving, larger-than-life school friend Godfredo Roco in Panama, he starts to realize what he’s been missing over the years. And when he then meets and falls in love with Karis Deen, the beautiful Smithsonian Tropical Research scientist, Max really becomes the fun-loving adventurer he used to be as a kid.
So, in that sense, you could say that he’s a mix of hard work and fun: once he has decided he’s taking time off, he really knows how to let loose, because he values his life and everything he has worked for.
On a summer break, Max would definitely go sailing around the beautiful San Blas Islands in Panama. Max has the brain of an engineer and the mind of a strategist, so he’d be an excellent navigator and sailor, without a doubt. And he’d love every moment of it: the sun, the wind, the sparkling seas … and his friends as company.
It’s relatively straightforward to rent a small helicopter in Panama, so it’s likely Max would also brush up on his rusty helicopter-flying skills, which he learned from his own father shortly before his tragic death. Max would probably fly with a friend to the Pearl Islands, or along the winding Chagres River, through the jungle, perhaps bringing the helicopter down in a clearing near the river where he could spend the day swimming, picnicking, and exploring the area.
One surprising thing he might do is go back to London, simply to visit his old uncle Alan, who lives on the run-down housing estate where Max ultimately grew up. Despite his lack of education, Alan has been a pivotal influence and mentor in Max’s life: he’s someone who has always loved him unconditionally, despite having nothing material to give. This is something Max values enormously. It’s likely that Max would slip quietly into London, unannounced to his old friends (or his ex-fiancée and her family!), and then leave the same way; over the years he has become more and more clear about who he answers to and who he doesn’t. And a week, or even a few days, with Alan—watching the football, eating beans on toast, perhaps going down to the local pub for beers—would be just fine by Max.
About Christoph Martin
Christoph Martin is the writing team of Christoph Martin Zollinger and Libby O’Loghlin. Christoph Zollinger is a Swiss entrepreneur whose career spans legal, military, corporate and private enterprise. Christoph graduated with a law degree from the University of Zürich, after which time he went on to live and work in Panama in corporate and private enterprise for more than a decade. In 2012 he returned to Switzerland with his wife and children. He divides his time between his home in Zürich and a tiny Alpine village in Graubünden. Libby O’Loghlin is an Australian novelist and prize-winning short story writer who has a career in narrative media production, including film and television, as well as print and digital publishing. She has lived in the UK, USA and Malaysia, and she now lives with her family in Switzerland.
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