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Lords of Corruption

From Chapter 2

“I’m Stephen Trent. I ride herd over this

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Trent. I really
appreciate you inviting me up here.”

“Stephen. And I appreciate you taking the time to talk to
a little charity like us. We know you must have big-money offers
coming in from all over the country, but I think we might be able
to offer you something unique.”

The crowd quietly scattered before any further introductions
could be made, and Trent led Josh through a narrow hallway toward
the back of the building. The walls were lined with photographs of
happy Africans in agricultural settings --- sometimes working,
sometimes posed with their arms around each other, sometimes in
large groups with Trent’s relatively pale face hovering near
the center. The last picture before they entered the door at the
back depicted Trent shaking hands with a sturdy African man in a
military uniform. President Umboto Mtiti, Josh knew from last
night’s African charity cram session.

“Have a seat,” Trent said, pointing to a
comfortable-looking leather chair. Josh did as he was told, and
Trent took the chair next to him instead of going behind the
imposing desk that dominated the room. “I assume you’ve
done some research on us?”

“I have, but there wasn’t much time, so I
wouldn’t say I’m an expert.”

Trent nodded. “We’re a small, focused charity, and
we like it that way. Our donors are sophisticated enough to
understand that Africa is too complicated a place to fix with
strategies that can be summed up in a sound bite. How much do you
know about foreign aid, Josh?”

“Only what I’ve read. I don’t have any direct

Trent didn’t seem concerned. “Foreign governments
and aid agencies have been pouring money and people into Africa for
decades. And if you criticize them, they’ll hit you with a
bunch of excuses: This or that project didn’t work out
because of this or that extenuating circumstance. It’s
ridiculous if you think about it. Do you know why?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Of course you don’t. Why would you? It’s
because there’s always an extenuating circumstance.
And if there’s always an extenuating circumstance...”
He paused, obviously wanting Josh to finish the thought.

“Then it’s not an extenuating

“Exactly!” Trent slapped the arm of his chair
loudly. “Let me give you a piece of advice, Josh. If you ever
become a millionaire and someone comes to you looking for aid money
for Africa, ask them to take you on a tour of their

Josh tried to appear thoughtful, but mostly he was thankful that
Trent was content to do most of the talking.

“But when you get there,” Trent continued, warming
up to his subject, “tell them you only want to see projects
that are at least ten years old. Then watch them

“But the newspaper articles I could find on NewAfrica have
been pretty complimentary,” Josh said. “They say
you’ve been pretty effective.”

“Yes! But it’s because we’re different. Some
people think we’re hard-asses, but if we think a project
isn’t going to be productive in the long term, we won’t
touch it.”

“And other agencies will?”

“Hell, yes. Look, don’t get me wrong. They all have
good intentions. But after they’ve hired a bunch of people,
put infrastructure in place, and started a donation campaign built
around this project or that, it gets pretty hard to just pull the

“Everyone would be out of a job,” Josh said.
“And they’d have to tell the donors that their money
had been wasted.”

“Precisely.” Trent leaned back in his chair and
examined Josh for a moment. “Have you ever been involved in
charity work?”

It was a question that Trent almost certainly already knew the
answer to. Josh had thought about it from every possible angle, but
he had nothing to work with. He’d never even been in the Boy

“I haven’t, Stephen. But I’ve been around it.
I grew up in a pretty poor area of the South.”

Trent nodded but didn’t immediately respond. “Okay,
then. Let me ask you this: Have you ever been the recipient of

With his ritual of meticulous preparation, Josh had never been
surprised by an interview question, and that left him with no
canned reaction when it finally happened. He felt his mouth
tighten, and he ran his tongue slowly over his teeth, trying to
decide if he should be pissed off and what he should say.

“You don’t have to answer that if you don’t
want, Josh.”

“No, it’s okay. The answer is yes. I

Trent jabbed a finger in his direction. “You see?
That’s a unique perspective that no one here --- not me, not
anyone --- has. It’s the kind of diversity that I believe can
help make this organization even more effective. I mean, in a way,
you’re the model of what we want for the Africans. You
started poor and disadvantaged, and you overcame that.”

“I would hope that I could bring something useful to New-
Africa, Stephen. But I’m not sure I have any secrets.”
Trent grinned. “I’m having a hard time reading you,
Josh. You seem a little reticent. Is it because of the way we snuck
up on you or because you wouldn’t take a job with a charity
if someone put a gun to your head?”

Another surprise question, though it shouldn’t have been.
He’d been playing this interview like a politician, figuring
that the less he said, the less could be held against him. But what
else could he do? He sure as hell wasn’t the rich
goody-two-shoes that he imagined charities went for. He
wasn’t looking for adventure before returning to the country
club and going to work for Daddy’s company. He didn’t
need to find himself, and frankly, he’d always been so
concerned with his own family that he’d never had time to
worry about anyone else’s.

“That brings up an interesting point, Stephen. How exactly
did you find me?”

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know.
Something to do with Internet databases and search parameters. I
tell a company that specializes in these kinds of things all the
unusual qualities we’re looking for, and on the rare occasion
that we find someone who has those qualities, we pursue

“Unusual how?”

“Maybe ‘unique’ would have been a better word.
Look, I won’t lie to you. The realities of Africa can be a
little harsh. We need people who are smart and driven, but also
people who have some experience with the real world. People who are
tougher than average. But most of all, we’re looking for
people who have common sense, because that can get lost pretty
quickly in the foreign aid business.” He paused for a moment,
obviously considering something. “What I’m trying to
say is that when you’re faced with some of the things Africa
can throw at you, it’s easy to lose yourself in your
ideology. We fight against that. You see, we look at this as a
business, Josh. Our product is projects --- agricultural, medical,
economic --- whatever. We want to manufacture a product for our
customers that’s effective, durable, and cheap.”

“Your customers being poor Africans.”

“Right. I know it’s a strange philosophy, but we
find that it works. You’ve got an MBA, so you understand how
a business should run, you come from a poor, broken family, so you
know what people need. You’re an athlete and a hunter, so
you’re not soft. And you’ve achieved things on your
own, so you understand what it takes to better yourself.
That’s what we need on the ground.”

Josh felt his eyebrows rise, and it didn’t go

“We know a few personal details about you, Josh.
We’re not trying to pry, but we also don’t want to hire
someone who is going to be over their head ten minutes after they
land. We ask a lot, frankly.”

Trent had misinterpreted Josh’s surprise. It was less that
he knew those few personal details than that he had missed a number
of others. Or had he? Maybe he didn’t care. Or was this a
test of Josh’s honesty?

“So this is a position outside the country?” Josh
said, deciding to let it go. He could always lean on plausible
deniability if the shit hit the fan later.

“Yup. You’d be knee-deep in the African mud.”
Trent’s mouth widened into another prizewinning smile.
“Well, it’s really not that bad, but it’s not the
Upper East Side, either.”

Josh nodded slowly. Africa. How many miles away was that? About
the same distance as the moon, as far as he was concerned. For a
million dollars, he doubted he could name five countries on the
whole continent.

“Look, Josh, I know you’re probably looking at a
hedge-fund job or something, but I can tell you from personal
experience that you should consider this. It’s a different
challenge every day, you have a lot of autonomy, you’re not
chained to a desk, and at the end of the day someone’s life
is better because of you.”


Chapter 3

Stephen Trent sat down behind his desk but immediately stood
again. A quick glance at the clock confirmed that he had less than
a minute. Aleksei Fedorov had told him nine P.M., and he was never
late. Never.

Trent took a deep breath and brushed at the imaginary wrinkles
in his shirt, a nervous tic that was impossible to resist but
entirely pointless. Fedorov didn’t care about anything that
didn’t involve making money, holding on to money, and keeping
money --- and the power it implied --- from his enemies.

The lights in the hall were off, and Trent walked through the
gloom taking deep, calming breaths, finally stopping in the lobby
where he could watch the front door. The second hand on the
receptionist’s desk was almost thirty seconds past the hour
when the sound of a key sliding into the lock became audible over
the hum of traffic outside.

“Aleksei! It’s good to see you!” Trent said, a
little too loud to seem calm and a little too cheerful to sound
spontaneous. If there was one positive thing about spending so much
of his time in one of Africa’s more godforsaken backwaters,
it was that Fedorov almost never set foot on the continent.

Unfortunately, this was not true of NewAfrica’s offices in
New York. Despite endless hints designed to prevent these visits,
Fedorov seemed to enjoy using them as proof that he was
untouchable. And maybe he was. But why endanger everyone else?

Fedorov shook Trent’s outstretched hand disinterestedly,
his deep-set eyes taking in the surroundings more like a camera
than the windows to the soul that poets imagined. They twitched
back and forth over a long, straight nose that hinted at his
foreign birth and an expression that suggested it hadn’t been
a pleasant one.

“We’ve had a thirteen percent drop in donations.

It seemed that his accent became more imperceptible every time
they met, and that was worrying. Fedorov had relocated to the
United States less than ten years ago and now, at age fifty, was
close to perfecting his fifth language. Trent had been blessed with
an impressive intellect that had proven indispensable over his
lifetime, but it also tended to make him uncomfortable around those
rare people who were clearly smarter than he was. It was an
advantage he was loath to give up.

“Let’s go back to my office, Aleksei. I’ll
make you a drink.”

“First you’ll answer my goddamn question.”

“We’ve got a few things working against us,”
Trent said as he started back down the hall, anxious to get Fedorov
away from the windows looking out onto the street. “And
they’re all hard to control. The U.S. economy’s
weakened pretty significantly, and that makes people feel less
generous. Also, after getting a good run in the press for a while,
the problems in Africa are taking a back burner. The Middle East,
political scandals, even global warming are getting better

He stopped and let Fedorov go through the office door first.
Trent couldn’t read the man’s expression in the dim
light and had no idea how he was taking what he was hearing, making
it impossible to properly adjust his tone and approach.

“We’re doing what we can, Aleksei, but...” He
let his voice trail off as he poured two whiskeys and Fedorov
wandered around the office examining things he clearly had no
interest in.

After a few seconds, the silence became uncomfortable and Trent
found himself speaking again, purely out of nervousness.
“We’re working on a large partnership with USAID right
now, and I’m optimistic about it. We’d be the primary
administrators of a twenty-million-dollar project. Right now
it’s between us and CARE, but I think we’ll get it. The
danger is more that the U.S. will pull funding entirely. Conditions
in the part of Africa where we operate are getting worse, and
it’s hard to convince people that the money invested there is
going to make a difference.”

Fedorov turned and accepted the whiskey Trent held out to him,
looking down at it as though he thought it might be poisoned.
“I saw your new campaign, Stephen. It’s shit. Another
bunch of happy niggers with shovels.”

“Aleksei --- ”

“‘Our work is done,’” Fedorov continued,
cutting him off. “Is that what you’re trying to say?
Because that’s what I’m hearing --- ‘Africans so
happy and healthy that I think they should be giving me

“Like I was saying, Aleksei, we have to show a certain
amount of progress and stability. Our focus groups --- ”

“Your focus groups?” Fedorov shouted. “Why
don’t you give me your focus groups’ addresses? Then I
can have a conversation with them about why I’m not making
any money.”

“I think --- ”

“Am I wrong, Stephen? Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me
that I can’t do simple math.”

“That’s not what I’m saying --- ”

“Don’t we have photos of dead children? Why are you
the only person on the fucking planet who can’t find dead
Africans to take pictures of? You can’t walk ten feet in that
country without tripping over one.”

“It isn’t --- ”

“Remember that picture of the starving kid with the
vulture standing next to him? That made people want to
give money.”

Trent tried to remember how many times that particular image had
come up and how many times he was going to have to defend his
decision not to use something similar.

“Going with something like that is going to work against
us in this situation, Aleksei. And we’d have to deal with a
certain amount of backlash and scrutiny that I think we both agree
we don’t need. We have to be very careful about controlling
our image.”

“Charities can’t run on good intentions,

It was impossible to know if the statement’s irony was
intended or if an acknowledgment of the joke was expected. In the
end, Trent decided to pretend he hadn’t heard.
“We’re still refining the campaign, and I agree that it
could be more hard-hitting. Give us another week, and we’ll
send you something more polished. I think you’ll be happy
with it.”

Fedorov clearly wasn’t convinced but was willing to move
on. “Have you hired someone to take over the farming

“I met with the last candidate yesterday.”


Trent sat down at his desk and slid a file across it. Fedorov
made no move to pick it up, glancing blandly at it from his
position in the center of the office.

“His name is Josh Hagarty,” Trent said. “He
graduated from high school with a very average GPA --- essentially
As in things he was interested in and Ds in things he wasn’t.
After that he went to work for an auto shop near his home and,
well, wasn’t exactly a model citizen.”

Fedorov remained silent, but for the first time that night, his
expression showed a hint of approval.

“He had a few minor arrests for things like disorderly
conduct and marijuana possession, but nothing stuck. Then one
night, he and a friend stopped at a liquor store. Josh stayed in
the car while his friend went in and robbed the store at

“But Hagarty just sat in the car?”

Trent nodded. “When the police started chasing them,
though, he tried to escape. And because he was drunk at the time,
he hit a tree, and both he and his friend ended up pretty seriously

“How much time did he do?”

“He cut a deal and only spent a year inside. His friend
swore that Josh had no idea he was going to rob the store and that
Josh screamed at him the entire time they were running from the

Fedorov seemed disappointed. “And what did he learn in

“Apparently that he didn’t want to go back. When he
was released, he enrolled in a community college, got straight As,
transferred to a four-year college, and graduated near the top of
his class in engineering.”

“He didn’t find Jesus, did he? I hate those fucking

“He doesn’t attend church, and there’s no
mention of religiosity from our private investigators.”

Fedorov nodded noncommittally.

“Because of his background, he didn’t get any good
job offers, and that prompted him to pursue an MBA. He’s just
now graduating, again near the top of his class, despite holding a
full-time job the entire time.”


“And he’s drowning in student loans and every other
kind of debt. He has a sister he’s extremely close to
who’ll be graduating from high school next year, and he
doesn’t have the money to send her to college.”

“Are any other companies sniffing around him?”

“He’s had a fair number of interviews, but even with
his qualifications, his background has kept him from getting any
offers. He does have a meeting next week with a small company near
his school called Alder Data Systems. They don’t have a
terribly sophisticated hiring process, and according to our people,
they may have overlooked his problems with the law.”

“I take it we’re going to fix that?”

“It’s being taken care of as we speak.”

“I’m not impressed, Stephen. After all the time and
money we’ve spent on this search, this is the best you can

If there was one universal truth, it was that Fedorov was never

“There’s no such thing as a perfect candidate,
Aleksei, but he’s smart as hell, charismatic, good-looking,
and well-educated. More importantly, he’s desperate --- for
money, to rise above his upbringing, to prove he’s changed.
He’s no angel, and he has a sister who’s important to
him. I’m not sure it would be possible to find someone who
fits the profile you created any better.”

Fedorov’s expression darkened subtly. “Because of a
few minor scrapes with the law and the fact that he was driving the
wrong car at the wrong time?”

“There’s only so far we can go down that path,
Aleksei. I can sell Josh to the board as a redemption story. And if
it ever comes up, I can play the same card with the press. If we go
with someone whose background is any worse, it’s going to
generate questions that aren’t so easily answered.”

“More attention than we got from that little saint you
hired before? I told you he would be a problem. But you
didn’t listen to me.”

“You have to understand that --- ”

“What I understand,” he interrupted, “is that
I’m not here to fix your fucking mistakes. What you should
understand is that I’m holding you personally responsible
this time. Do you understand me? Personally


Chapter 11

Josh Hagarty pushed his way through the people moving urgently
along the dirt street and tried to imagine what their lives were
like. He’d hoped his visit to town would teach him something,
but now he wondered if he wouldn’t have been better off just
downing a few of Luganda’s brutal margaritas in the
compound’s pool. Everything here was so different that he was
having a hard time even finding a context to place it in.

The buildings on either side of him were colonial in design ---
still imposing, but peeling paint and the occasional collapsed
balcony hinted at inevitable disintegration. As did almost
everything else.

He winced when one of the children swarming him grabbed his hand
and squeezed the blisters raised by moving too quickly from pushing
paper to swinging a pick.

“You give me money,” the boy said cheerfully. It
seemed to be his only English, but if you only knew four words,
Josh had to admit, those were good ones.

“I’m flat broke, kid. You’re looking at a true
American loser.”

None of them understood, but all ten or so laughed, displaying
spirits unbroken by their surroundings and dim prospects. He
actually did have some change in his pocket but had been warned
against passing it out. Something about turning African children
into beggars and destroying their future. He understood the
concept, but standing there staring at the reality was an entirely
different thing. He thought he’d had a pretty good handle on
poverty but was quickly realizing that he didn’t know the
first thing about it.

The kids lost interest when it became apparent he wasn’t
going to cave, leaving him to the mildly curious stares of the
adults around him. The crowd became more dense as he approached an
outdoor market operating under the watchful eye of Umboto Mtiti,
staring down from a large wall mural. This depiction was a bit more
modern than the ones he’d seen in the capital, and the
caption was scrawled in the style of graffiti: “Gates are
doors to the future.”

He had no idea what that meant, but it seemed to capture the
competing waves of possibility and hopelessness that had been
buffeting him since he’d arrived.

Gideon hadn’t shown up that morning, so Josh had spent a
frustrating day using his charades skills to try to get the people
on his project digging in straight lines. Not that he was sure the
terraces necessarily needed to be straight, but he didn’t
have anything else to do.

The main obstacle they were facing was drainage, and he’d
waded back into the cornfield to see how its designers had dealt
with the problem. He didn’t find the elegant, ancient
solution he’d expected, instead uncovering a sophisticated
system of pipes and gas-powered pumps. Where they’d come from
and where he could get more was a mystery.

Josh wandered past stalls selling the gravy-soaked dough that
seemed to be the country’s national dish, past fabric vendors
hawking material polka-dotted with Umboto Mtiti’s image,
finally entering the sector dominated by meat vendors. He stopped
short in front of a table containing what looked like a charred
child, its swollen tongue still pink where it protruded from a
lipless mouth. Josh held off his revulsion and inched closer as the
woman behind the table waved away the flies. He let out the breath
he’d been holding when he realized it was a monkey.

She chattered at him unintelligibly, but he held out his hands
and backed away. “Looks tasty, ma’am, but no

The heat, smoke, and sweat-soaked people sliding past started to
close in on him, and he ducked down an alley, happy for a little
shade and urine-scented solitude. The thick, colonial-era walls
deadened the sound of the plaza, and the increasing quiet created
an illusion of serenity as he penetrated deeper. He was going to be
all right. He’d just gotten there. Had he thought it was
going to be easy? That he was going to roll in there and turn an
entire continent around overnight?

He was too lost in thought to hear the footsteps coming up
behind him until someone grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.
He managed to get an arm up and deflect the club before it
connected with his head, but the force of the blow still knocked
him back against the wall of the narrow alley.

There were two of them, both probably in their early twenties,
and both shouting with the same unbridled fury that he’d seen
in Gideon at the airport. Adrenaline quickly cleared his head, and
the instincts he’d developed in jail turned out to still be
with him.

“Take it easy,” he said, trying to buy some time in
a situation that he already knew wasn’t going to end
peacefully. A quick glance in either direction confirmed that his
attackers knew exactly what they were doing. There were no windows
looking down on them and no doors to run for. The alley dead-ended
in about thirty feet, and they had blocked off any hope of an
escape back in the direction of the plaza.

“You want my money? I don’t have much, but
you’re welcome to it.” He began to reach for his
pocket, but when he did, they charged. Josh focused on the one with
the club, ducking just in time for it to pass over his head and
strike the wall behind him with the sound of splintering wood. As
it did, though, the other man landed a kick to his chest. The
bottom of his foot was hard from a life spent shoeless, but nowhere
near as damaging as the boots favored by the people Josh had
tangled with in his youth. He managed to catch hold of the
man’s leg and flip him onto his back in the dirt, opening a
path out of the alley.

He was just a little too slow, giving the man on the ground time
to slap his ankle and cause him to stumble as he tried to escape.
He regained his balance quickly, but the split-second delay gave
his other attacker time to slam what was left of his club into the
small of Josh’s back.

This time he wasn’t able to maintain his footing, and he
landed hard on his stomach, skidding across the dirt and colliding
with the wall to his right. The sensation of a hand snatching the
wallet from his back pocket prompted him to flip instinctively onto
his back and grab at the man’s wrist. The loss of a few
dollars and his IDs shrank to insignificance when he saw the club,
almost entirely intact as it turned out, arcing toward his

Josh abandoned his efforts to retrieve his wallet and tried to
pull his hand back to ward off the blow, but the man anticipated
the move and grabbed him in a sweaty but unbreakable grip.

The combination of being out in the sun all day, jet lag, and
the disorientation of being so far from home made it hard to fully
accept what was happening. It was simple, though. In less than a
second, the club was going to land and he was going to die lying in
an alley thousands of miles from home. For nothing. For a wallet
containing barely enough money to buy a Big Mac and fries.

Josh closed his eyes and waited for the impact, but nothing
happened. No pain, which he supposed was understandable, but also
no disorientation or loss of consciousness. No blinding light
surrounded by angels or fiery pits guarded with pitchforks.

The pressure around his forearm disappeared, and he opened his
eyes to discover that there were now two more men in the alley, and
everyone was trying to kill each other. The one with the club was
on the ground and absorbed a kick to the head so vicious that
Josh’s stomach rolled at the sound of it. The man he’d
knocked to the ground tried to run but quickly discovered his own
plan working against him. There was nowhere to go. A moment later
he was on all fours trying desperately to dislodge the man snaking
an arm around his throat.

There was something about the man on top that was familiar ---
the way he moved, the wiry power of his arms. Josh’s mind was
still coming to terms with the fact that he was alive, and it took
a few seconds for him to realize that he actually knew one of his

The man beneath Tfmena Llengambi was much larger and younger,
but so far he hadn’t been able to use that advantage to
escape. One of his hands came off the ground and dipped into his
waistband, reappearing a moment later with something that gleamed
in the sunlight angling into the alley.

Adrenaline hit Josh full force again, and he jumped to his feet,
sprinting the few yards to the struggling men and sliding across
the dirt just in time to stop the knife from lodging in
Tfmena’s ribs.

It was the opening the older man had been looking for, and he
picked up a broken piece of concrete, bringing it down on the back
of the man’s head with a sickening crunch. Josh released the
now limp arm, pedaling his feet in front of him as he scooted away.
Tfmena brought the block down again and again until the blood
flowing onto the ground mingled with what Josh assumed were pieces
of the man’s brain.

And then it was silent again. Josh glanced behind him and saw
that his other attacker was in a similar condition, having become
the victim of his own club in the hands of a young man wearing a
Britney Spears T-shirt over a heaving chest.

Tfmena stood and held out a steady hand to help Josh to his
feet, then brushed the dust off him. His expression was strangely
calm and seemed to contain a bit less disdain than it had

Tfmena picked up Josh’s wallet and held it out to him,
saying something in Yvimbo that was easy to decipher from the tone:
“Get out of here. This is none of your business

Josh mumbled his thanks, shaking the man’s hand and trying
not to look at the two corpses as he backed away. Finally he turned
and ran. When he burst into the blinding sun of the plaza, he was
at a full sprint. He ran past bemused Africans rushing to get out
of his way, past the charred monkey that still hadn’t been
sold, past tables of knockoff watches and boom boxes, not stopping
until exhaustion and heat overcame him.

He bent at the waist, breathing hard and trying to think about
what had just happened. When he finally managed to straighten up
again, he discovered that he was standing in front of a clothing
store with a well-appointed sign reading “Dead White Man

“Forget your undies?”

He spun, fists raised, to find JB Flannary standing behind

“Whoa, tiger. Peace, okay?”

Josh just stood there, his breathing still not controlled enough
to answer.

Flannary pointed to his chest. “You got red on

Josh looked down and saw the blood splattered across his white
T-shirt. Was it his? Or did it belong to the man he’d just
helped kill?

“They were slaughtering chickens in the market,” he
heard himself say.

Flannary nodded knowingly. “You should be more careful.
Sometimes bloodstains don’t come out so easy.”

Excerpted from LORDS OF CORRUPTION © Copyright 2011 by Kyle
Mills. Reprinted with permission by Vanguard Press. All rights

Lords of Corruption
by by Kyle Mills

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vanguard Press
  • ISBN-10: 1593154992
  • ISBN-13: 9781593154998