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By Nina Valdes
(Pic supplied by author)

For the remaining two and a half hour return trip to Madrid, I encouraged Colin Schinn to do most of the talking. He was a quiet, unassuming man who narrated his story in a well-modulated voice, and I found his personal history fascinating. Since I was privy to his interpretation only, I was anxious to hear Maria´s rendering of events.

“Tell me more about yourself when you and Maria met,” I asked him. “And, precisely, how did you meet?”

“Well, in my early twenties, I had few prospects and was headed nowhere. As I already mentioned, I inhaled three packs of cigarettes a day and drank away the evenings. Most of the time I couldn’t remember how I made it home – and yet, I always drove.

“I had two brothers: John and Bill, and a sister, Pat. We were reared in a good Irish Catholic family with a loving mother and a loveless dad.  My father harboured a particular disdain for me, and I firmly believe that it fueled the rebellious streak that I manifested and exhibited well into adulthood. It appeared that no matter what I did, it wasn´t good enough and his obvious contempt for me was met with my direct defiance. As well, my friends were deemed misfits, druggies and all around deplorables. And I was the Anti-Christ.

“It´s highly probable that I had a learning disability, which was obviously frustrating for the family unit. But it wasn´t recognized as such, and dad treated it more like an unpardonable sin.

“As a result, I dropped out of high school, ran with the wildest crowd and plunged heavily into the drug scene. The more I floundered, the more cocaine I required. In the early years, it was a 24/7 relentless pursuit of the ultimate high. Either smoke it or shoot it.

“It wasn´t until I met an old-school German mechanical engineer named Ellwood that it even occurred to me to mend my ways and alter my lifestyle. He recognized my natural abilities, my obsession with motorbikes, and aptitude for anything power-driven but advised that excessive drug use would prevent me from securing a lucrative job and also lead to my eventual destruction. I valued his opinion greatly and  finally woke up and decided to take decisive action for a change that would impact my future survival.

“The army-navy store on Queens Boulevard was the first stop in my life´s reclamation plan to regain my erstwhile existence. I bought blankets, a camouflage sleeping bag, a well-worn tent, and piles of k-rations, all necessary items to keep body and soul together on an extended road trip. I stuffed canteens of water into the saddlebags of my motorbike and stocked up on multi-vitamins and mini juice packets at Walgreens.

“I guided my over-loaded Harley Davidson to a secluded beach in Southern California upon which I pitched my military tent and lived a solitary existence on k-rats and water for more than a month, all the while suffering the unspeakable physical and mental agonies associated with drug withdrawal.  That small stretch of sand was both my Purgatory and rehab clinic rolled into one.

“I returned home cured. Reveling in this current drug-free state I was convinced that the world was mine to conquer. My father´s scorn would no longer affect me and I felt confident that the rest of the family would welcome me with open arms.

“The first person I saw was Ellwood, who commented on my complete transformation. He was noticeably pleased and set about teaching me everything he knew about mechanics and motors. I absorbed each word of his instructions, committed them to memory, and problem-solved every possible scenario he placed in front of me. Within six months of reaching the goal I´d set for myself, I was sufficiently confident in my abilities and wanted to open an auto service station. And Texaco made it happen. There was a station for lease in my area. I jumped on it. My brother, Bill, joined me in partnership.

“With the long hours spent at work, my customer base grew, and the business became hugely profitable. I was twenty-nine or thirty years of age at the time – was married and had two small boys.  Although I was successful, I was absent from home many nights and my marriage suffered. The boys rarely saw me but that was the price I was forced to pay to achieve the outcome I coveted.

“One evening in May, after a very late night, I closed the station but was too wired to go home and sleep. My friend, JJ,  also my ex-drug supplier, was hosting an all-night party, and  I knew I could just show up at her place, have a few drinks, and unwind before heading home.

“When I arrived, the door was opened by Sandy, a friend from the neighborhood. JJ emerged to greet me and handed over a cold bottle of beer, which I chugged. I checked out the crowd of people and recognized several familiar faces, but my eyes settled and remained on a pretty, brown-skinned girl sitting on a beanbag chair reading a magazine.  JJ noticed my interest and disclosed that her name was Maria and that she and Sandy were both Executive Assistants at the  U.S. Borax Company in Rockefeller Plaza – were close friends who did everything together. She introduced us, and I still I couldn´t stop staring. I thought she was lovely, but I sensed something deeper behind her eyes when she smiled at me.

“A couple of joints were being passed around, and Sandy and I shared one. (I no longer did drugs, but I didn´t consider marijuana to be in the same category.) Maria declined our offer to smoke but we kept insisting, and after a while, she relented and took a couple of hits. The weed was good and it more than likely intensified the electric  charge in the  atmosphere that we both sensed. There was no defining action on her part or mine, merely an unspoken word that passed between us. Within the next hour, we got together and became inseparable from that point. There was no going back.

“On May 21, 1971, an entirely benign evening in my life, I slept with a beautiful woman not knowing that the intense connection we made would inextricably link our lives and very souls for decades to come.  I´m not one to believe in the psychobabble that people sometimes spout, but I´m willing to swear that this one sexual encounter, unlike any other I´d experienced, caused our spirits to collide, our molecular structures to merge and the core of our joint DNA to morph into a single cell.

“Does that sound unbelievable to you?” he wanted to know.

“No. It sounds thrilling,” Iassured him. I´m already slightly jealous but anxious to hear the remainder of the story. “And what about the pearls? What part do they play in this saga?”

“Well, they don´t appear until later, but I´ll let Maria give you the lowdown on them,” he promised.

Shortly thereafter, our plane touched down at Barajas Airport, and I reluctantly said goodbye to Colin. I gave him both my phone numbers and asked him to have Maria ring me when she arrived. I really wanted to delve more deeply into the history surrounding the black pearls.


Chapter 3 coming up.