Guest Post by John HalbertThank you for this opportunity to discuss my two novels, Arbat Square and Plaza Mayor.
These multi-volume “Conspiracy Thrillers” had their origins in a business journey I took to Nigeria several years ago, where I encountered people and places who became excellent prototypes for the settings and the characters in these novels. As I told others about the incredible happenings during that pressure-packed visit, they insisted that I write about it. After starting what was intended to be a short story, I realized that here was the germ of a much larger story that became these two novels. In due course, it became a heavily-researched account of the founding of a crime Cartel, worldwide in scope, supplying arms, funding, and training to international criminals, human traffickers, renegade governments and the beginnings of a terrorist organization that closely resembled the founding of Al Qaeda.
The first five chapters of Arabet Square mirror my own experiences through the “Kip Leeds” character.
This two-book set takes the reader to the inner workings of the “other side” through action, intrigue, adventure and romance.
In the first volume, Arabet Square, oil trader Kip Leeds goes on a dangerous journey to Africa where he comes into twenty million dollars of black money.
In Moscow, Terenty Suslov, a rising young Soviet Military Intelligence officer, attends a secret Special Forces academy, training for an intense mission to penetrate the United States. Leonid Retchkio, an unprincipled former Soviet general, masterminds an international crime cartel that supplies weapons and training to subversive terrorist groups whose influence will extend all the way to the Twin Towers of Manhattan.
Plaza Mayor, the second volume in the series, tracks Larry Landay, a young California marketing executive taking a shipment of sophisticated electronics to Africa. While there, he encounters a crime cartel supplying weapons and training to international terrorists. The American Investigation Agency joins forces with the Russian Security Service and International Police to try to stop the cartel’s mastermind.
These “Conspiracy Thrillers” offer surprising perspectives of the “other side”, where the subjects – most of whom do not know each other but are nevertheless inexorably intertwined – are brought together at historic “Plaza Mayor” for the world-shaking climax.
Chapter Excerpt:Kip pulled his bag from the overhead bin and joined the jostling passengers exiting the airliner down a set of wheeled steps. Inside the Lagos terminal, the scene he came upon was about like any other airport he had ever seen, except that this crowd was made up almost entirely of Africans in native dress.
Then, it hit him―the soggy, sponge-like humidity and the smells―of sweat and strange fragrances. A squad of soldiers in full battle gear with rifles on their shoulders goose-stepped past; their jarring jackboots whamming down in thunderous cadence.
Up ahead were tables with uniformed officers standing behind them. With a chill of alarm he realized they were directing him toward the Customs inspectors! Were the Nigerians about to find the fifty-thousand dollars strapped underneath his clothes?
At that moment, a very dark, fierce-looking man in khaki pants and a white, open-collar shirt stepped in front of him, blocking his way. “Kip Leeds?” the man intoned in a heavy, accented voice, his piercing black eyes boring straight into Kip’s.
With a start, the American realized he must be his airport contact! Kip nodded, swallowing.
With nervous fingers Kip pulled out the pasted-on card Masobe Busa had faxed him.
The muscular African thrust a card he was holding at the one in Kip’s hand. The serrated edges were a perfect match. “Follow me!” he ordered.
Kip’s heart was pounding as the man led him around a corner of the shadowy concourse to a bench. “Put two-hundred dollars in your passport and sit right there,” he said. “I will be back to get you in a few minutes.”
The man took his precious passport with the money inside it and headed back in the direction from which they had just come.
Kip sat down on the bench and looked around at his dingy surroundings. No one else was nearby, a fact he was not sure was to his benefit or not. The odor of humid sweat hung in the air. On the paint-peeled wall right across from where he sat hung a huge ‘Pepsi’ poster. From a loudspeaker came a continuous jabber of announcements in accented English―was ‘English’ the language of Nigeria? Kip had more or less assumed that everyone would be speaking in some sort of native tongue.
While he was pondering this, the man in the khaki pants and the white shirt came back. To Kip’s relief, he was holding the passport. The American stuffed it into his back pocket.
“Come with me!” the African motioned, “everything is arranged!”
Kip grabbed his bag and followed him past the immigration area, through the vast main terminal, to the outside. At once, they were surrounded by gawking, chattering beggars and others not so impoverished-looking. “Give this woman twenty dollars!” the man said, pointing to a wizened crone, “she is with us!” Kip pulled out a twenty and handed it to her. The doddering old female snatched it and stepped back, cackling and grinning. She had no teeth.
The man glared at the rest of the bunch, who shrank back into the shadows.
The two went down a long, curving, grass-lined sidewalk to the street. Under a street lamp at the curb, Kip turned about and stared at the huge terminal building, with its big lighted sign on the front: ‘MURTALA MOHAMMED AIRPORT LAGOS’. He could see that others were being shaken-down for money just as the old woman had done to him. It looked like an extortion racket was in full swing back there.
A half-dozen youngsters, including a one-legged boy hobbling on a tree-limb crutch, came up with their hands outstretched. The man swore at them; they turned and fled.
There was a scruff of tires and a blue, older-model, four-door Toyota swept up to the curb. “Get in!” the man said, opening a rear door, “these men will take you to the hotel.”
Kip tossed his gear onto the floorboard and ducked into the right-rear seat. The car pulled away into the traffic. By the flickering light of other cars’ headlamps and intermittent street lights, he could see that two men were in the front seats. Both stared straight ahead.
They had gone about a block when a police officer in a “Colonial-style” uniform stepped off the curb. WHAM! His hand slammed onto the car’s hood like a thunderclap! The driver jammed on the brakes and gaped at the scowling lawman, who was pointing at Kip. “I want to see that backseat passenger, outside!” He repeated the demands. “You! Get out of that car! That is an order!” Kip’s eyes were wide―should the officer find all that money on him, the American knew he might have but moments to live.
The officer pulled out a billy-club and lunged at the door. Just as his fingers gripped the handle, the driver floorboarded the gas pedal and the Toyota shot forward! The policeman spun around and fell, yelling, to the pavement! Kip looked back, aghast, and saw the officer reach for his gun. The driver jerked the car around a corner, out of the policeman’s line of fire, and they sped off into the night!
“Oh! Oh!” Kip gasped, as the sedan careened down a shadowy back street at the outskirts of the airport.
The African male in the front passenger’s seat spoke. “We will be all right―this happens all the time.” They were the first words either of the two men had said. “Mister Busa is waiting for you at the hotel,” the fellow went on in a heavy accent, “everything is arranged.”
Kip remembered the white-shirt-khaki-pants man at the airport had also said, “everything is arranged.” Everything, what? he wondered. And what had the front-seat man meant by, “this happens all the time”?
While he was still thinking about this, they came to a ramp and the driver whipped the Toyota up onto a divided highway.
As they raced along, Kip looked closely at the two men. In the flickering lights of the road, he could tell that the driver appeared to be the younger of the two―probably in his late-twenties; the other man was stocky and middle-aged. Both had very dark complexions. Neither had much to say, but he got the impression they were following someone else’s orders.
After they had been on the freeway-like thoroughfare for about ten minutes, the driver twisted the wheel and they bounded down an exit ramp onto a rutted service road, where the sedan presently drove up in front of a brightly-lighted, modern-looking six-story building. According to the marquee the establishment was the “Roomland Hotel.”
The front-seat passenger yanked open the rear door while the driver hopped from the other side.
Kip tugged his luggage bag from the floorboard and got out.
“Come!” the stocky one said, “the man is waiting for us.” Kip guessed he meant Busa.
About the author:John is a former Radio-TV News Director, Internet Commentator on the World Talk Network, newspaper columnist, and he worked in the oil trading and chemical business. He still does occasional voiceover commercials for radio, television, and other promotions, and he's currently involved in property development and construction. He lives with his wife, Cecilia, in Katy, Texas.
Sold as a two-book set, Arbat Square and Plaza Mayor: Two Stories of Our Time is available in softcover and ebook from Virtualbookworm.com, Amazon.com, and Barnesandnoble.com. This set can also be ordered from most bookstores around the United States and United Kingdom. More information can be found at John's website.