If only that man would speak to me, I could be on my way.
Waiting exasperated me. The man’s bombastic voice gave final
instructions to a subordinate in the hallway behind me.
“Tell them we can ship to Singapore and have it there in six weeks. Or
they can pay for air freight if they can’t wait that long,” he said.
I turned and saw Manuel Del Campo standing outside the double doors of
his office. The molding of the oversized doorway framed his muscular and
impeccably-dressed physique. He wore a crisp, highly-tailored,
bone-white suit—appropriate to the climate, yet contrasting
conspicuously with the concept of steel mills.
I sat in Del Campo’s plush office near Medellín, Colombia, waiting
for him to answer a few questions for me. Fidgeting with my nails, I
contemplated the multiple reasons I’d accepted coming here to do this
job. I was having second thoughts, but it was too late. Now that I was
on-site, it was better to just get on with it.
I’d flown in last night. A weather delay before I left Minneapolis,
plus the five-hour flight to the Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport in
Medellín, gave me ample time to think about corruption in Latin
America—corruption so widespread that individuals across the
workforce, from police officers on the street to the back offices of low
level government officials, supplemented their incomes inappropriately.
When dishonesty exists openly at the street level, it always emanates
from the top and permeates all of society. In countries like Colombia,
drug related crime adds more layers of complexity to unscrupulous
behavior. I was fortunate not to be investigating drug traffickers. I
was here to probe into possible mismanagement of a steel mill.
My eyes scanned the top of a carved mahogany desk directly in front of
me. A photo stared back at me of Del Campo himself, wearing the same
bone-white suit he sported today. Del Campo entered the room, his tone
of voice tempering to lower ranges, apologizing for the delay in meeting
“I have time,” I said. I assumed he never arrived late for business
appointments with men, but since I was a woman, he had been purposely
He walked to his carved desk, preceding our meeting with pleasant Latin
platitudes as he flipped open a cherry wood humidor, his initials
engraved on the top, and selected a seven-inch Churchill. He cut the cap
with a double guillotine cutter and lit a narrow strip of Spanish cedar
with an old-fashioned butane lighter he retrieved from the top drawer of
his desk. Cigar in mouth, he slowly rotated it in the spill’s flame as
he pulled air in gentle puffs to ensure an even burn. The spicy-sweet
aroma of good hand-rolled tobacco mingled with the scent of the burning
cedar, making me crave a cigar. But Del Campo was not about to offer a
cigar to a woman and certainly not to one who was a lowly auditor.
Manuel could ignore the ban on indoor smoking that worldwide
headquarters in Minneapolis had issued. After all, Medellín, Colombia,
was a long way from Minneapolis.
He looked at his cigar and rolled it around between his fingers. Without
lifting his eyes, he abruptly turned the conversation to the purpose of
“So you’re here to investigate me.” His voice hardened as he
“I’m here to investigate allegations of wrongdoing reported to
headquarters,” I said.
“I’m completely transparent about managing this company,” Del
Campo said. He puffed on his cigar. “Everything here is on the
up-and-up, like in a game of fencing.”
“Fencing? What does that have to do with managing a company?”
“You don’t go for perfection,” Manuel said. He puffed on his
cigar, blew out three smoke rings, and stared at me as the rings slowly
dissipated. “You just go for solid returns.”
“I don’t know much about fencing. I’ve seen it televised at the
Olympics. But let me ask a few routine questions about the mill.”
“Women stand to learn a lot about business if they learned the game.
In the context of fencing, it’s all about the frame you set up.” He
took the photo of himself, set off by a gilded frame, and fidgeted with
it until the angle of it set straight ahead of me.
“Frame?” I asked, confused.
“Let me explain. If you tell yourself your opponent is weak, and you
play the game believing you are better, you create a psychological
advantage. On the contrary, if you are afraid of your opponent, you will
see yourself ambushed.”
“That philosophy is true in life. In the weeks to come, you can
explain the game to me. Right now, though, I need to get some
information from you about the company.”
“I’m listening,” he said, leaning back in his chair.
For the next hour, I asked a lot of questions. He lit up a second cigar.
The more he spoke, the longer he drew on each puff. He held the
seven-inch Churchill between his thumb, middle, and index fingers, like
an aficionado. I continued probing. He continued blowing smoke rings.
“If everything is above board, as you say, why did your employees call
the Corporate Security Office to report misappropriation of company
assets?” I asked.
He switched the cigar to his left hand. The inch-long ash fell in one
piece on the highly-polished mahogany. His right hand, fingers cupped,
pushed the ashes across the desk in a semicircle and onto the floor in
one sweeping motion.
“It’s probably a disgruntled employee trying to discredit me. Or a
competitor,” he said.
“You think one disgruntled employee would be so persistent?” I
asked, my voice firm.
“One angry person can easily try to incriminate another, especially
behind the veil of anonymity. Why believe a caller who won’t give his
name?” Manuel asked, his voice playful.
Almost immediately, he swiveled his chair, moved forward, and looked me
straight in the eye.
“Look, Ms. Corporate Auditor Nikki Garcia, I’m tired of your
insinuating questions. I find your tone accusatory. If corporate
headquarters is not happy with my performance, they can fire me. They
can trust me and stop this goddamned investigation, or they can fire me.
You tell them that.”
His voice became heated; his face turned fire red. He looked at me as if
it was all he could do to control his anger. If I’d been a man, he may
have taken a swing at me.
“I thought the game of fencing was about dealing psychologically with
the opponent,” I said.
He took what remained of his cigar and crushed it against the ashtray
with such force I thought the ashtray might break. His face became
purple with anger, and he stood, signaling our meeting was over. As I
got up, his demeanor relaxed. He escorted me out of his office, smiling
like a man accustomed to getting his way through temper tantrums. He
cleared his throat, as if the cigar had irritated it.
“If you need anything while you’re here on assignment, Nikki, just
speak with my assistant. She’ll arrange it for you. We want to make
your visit to Medellín as pleasant as possible,” he said. He closed
the door to his office, officially ending our conversation.
I stood by the door, once again livid with the corporate policy of
informing high-level executives when they were the object of a review
for fraudulent activity. No one ever told lower level employees when
they were the target of an audit, a tactic to ensure they didn’t have
time to cover up or destroy evidence. So why inform executives?
That man, manipulative as he seemed, had been president of Amazonia
Steel for twelve years. He had taken control of a small company, which
manufactured for the Latin American market, and grown it into a vast
enterprise that exported around the globe, and he had been relentless in
building his empire. His name had been tossed around at headquarters as
a successor to the aging worldwide CEO, but Del Campo himself had taken
his name out of contention, preferring, he claimed, to live in his
I looked at the lavish furnishings around me in the office Del Campo’s
administrative assistant occupied. I’d met Theya, his assistant, that
morning before she left at noon for personal reasons. The entire
building was impeccable, but the elegant setting of the executive suite
made me feel as if I were in upscale offices in Upstate New York instead
of Medellín, Colombia.
I walked to the window to calm my anger at corporate policy before I
talked with anyone else. Five floors up, I had a splendid view of an
artificial lake that sparkled in the sunlight like a jagged and vast
aquamarine. Occupying several acres, the lake had a bridge spanning the
two shores at their narrowest point. The bridge curved gracefully over
the lake, ending at a small, treelined parking lot to the right side of
the front entrance to the building. Trees sprinkled along a pathway
circled the circumference of the lake. Beyond the lake and across the
highway were low, rolling hills. The vacant land, lake, and
neatly-tended lawns around the company gave the entire complex a country
club atmosphere. The steel mills were tucked out of sight half a mile
Amazonia Steel was one of the most profitable affiliates in the Globan
family of companies. Globan International, where I worked, had worldwide
holdings in steel, mining, energy, and large scale construction. I’d
been sent to “la ciudad de la eterna primavera,” City of Eternal
Spring, after the Globan Corporate Security Office received fifteen
anonymous phone calls on the Sarbanes Oxley Hotline claiming the
president was defrauding the company.
Sarbanes Oxley was the law that resulted from several large accounting
and fraud scandals in corporate America, including giants like Enron,
Tyco, and WorldCom. Though the law is complex, multinational companies
instituted telephone hotlines as part of their internal policing
function to comply with a small part of the legislation. Employees could
report malfeasance anonymously on these hotlines.
Calls to Globan’s Security Office Hotline gave few details on the
accusations against Del Campo. I could be chasing a hoax. Yet that
thought quickly evaporated as I focused on Manuel’s behavior at our
meeting. Still gazing out the large window in Theya’s office, I
glanced at my watch. It was time to call it a day.
Excerpted from "Waking Up in Medellin" by Kathryn Lane. Copyright © 2016 by Kathryn Lane. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.