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The author, Leonie Campbell has spun a tortuous web with this new novel ‘The Emerald Buddha.’ Campbell explores the premise of why influential men are tempted by the power of extraordinary wealth, despite the risks. Even the possibility of violent death at the hands of corrupt mercenaries does not deter Paul Maxwell – What is lacking in his life; riches beyond compare, recognition from his peers, or the allure of beautiful women? Maxwell’s all consuming desire is to have it all; his fate is waiting for him...
DARKNESS SURROUNDED THE MEN as they crept furtively through the Cambodian jungle. They held their weapons with the safety-catch off, ready to fire at the enemy hidden in the shadows. Their task tonight was to protect the foreigner in their midst, to deliver him unharmed to their leader, Khot Choung. He was a hard man; a veteran of countless, bloody terrorist attacks on government facilities and important people.
Paul Maxwell strode silently between the war-hardened soldiers; he sweated profusely as he climbed the mountain trail, which led to the secret location. Maxwell’s stony expression face masked his concerns for the success of his negotiations with their Khmer leader, Khot Choung. Climbing the trail far below, was Zao Lim, a business acquaintance; who has set up this meeting. Maxwell paused, breathing heavily from the exertion, and he glanced back along the trail. His eyes searched for a sign of Zao Lim, his only means of escape if things went terribly wrong. In the humid night Maxwell’s anxiety burned deep in his stomach, and he feared for his life. His senses exploded as he tried to ease the burning pain in his hands, but the guards saw his actions.
The heavily armed mercenary grunted a warning, and then shoved him violently forward. “Foreigner, keep your eyes on the track. Many men have died in these mountains.”
“The jungle keeps its secrets well hidden, from the prying eyes of the military,” replied another rugged warrior.
The armed mercenary pushed his AK47 into Maxwell’s back, bruising his spin; there was no escape from these hardened killers. Maxwell was helpless with his arms twisted behind his back, which made climbing very difficult. Sweating profusely, Maxwell stumbled over the treacherous roots, and he swore in frustration.
“Alright, I get the message. But, how much longer before we reach our destination?” Said Maxwell defiantly.
Maxwell heard a faint, muffled cry, and he turned, but was shoved roughly forward. The mercenaries had professionally executed Zao Lim; his throat had been cut, and his body flung into the tangled undergrowth. Rough justice prevailed here, and his life was forfeit for the greater cause.
The mercenary grasped Maxwell’s arm, and shoved him into a tangled stand of Bamboo. “People who ask too many questions are killed, they cause problems. Go ahead! I would find pleasure in taking your life; it’s worth nothing to me.”
Maxwell declined the warriors’ offer and lapsed into silence, concentrating on conserving his energy. The overgrown trail was steep, and the undergrowth sliced his arms with poisonous thorns; he groaned in agony. Maxwell was nearing the end of his endurance. Sitting behind a desk most days, or in long lunches with Government officials had increased his waistline; he was unfit.
He pondered on the task ahead of him; to appease corrupt officials he has agreed to meet with Khot Choung in a secret location. He knew this man’s reputation; he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people in the last major uprising. Khot Choung was a mercenary who traded in government secrets, arms, and the gem markets. He controlled the movement of gold, illegal drugs, and money laundering across many borders. Khot Choung was a powerful, cruel man feared rightly by many who thought to oppose him.
Paul Maxwell planned his opening dialogue; one wrong move and he would die at the hands of this man. He deliberated silently, ‘I must tread carefully with Khot Choung. The documents that I’m carrying are top secret, and are vital to his plans to control the money markets in Southeast Asia.’ Maxwell struggled with fatigue, as he stumbled into a large clearing in the silent, steamy jungle.
In the pervading gloom he could barely see the mercenaries, who had melted into the shadows of the ancient temple. These men were ruthless and the odor of death pervaded his nostrils; suddenly, he was terrified for his life. The mercenaries forced him forward into the ancient temple that the tortuous vines were reclaiming, towards a lantern’s dull light.
Maxwell found himself standing before a stone altar, the statue of Buddha long gone, stolen by greedy men. In the wavering lantern’s glow he could make out a sinister figure, hidden, beyond identification. Maxwell carefully flexed his fingers, when the bonds were released. He was desperate to restore circulation to his bloody hands.
“State you name Foreigner!” growled a hoarse, menacing voice.
Maxwell listened anxiously, trying to determine the nationality of the hidden mercenary. “My name is Maxwell, Paul Maxwell.” He stated firmly, struggling to overcome an overwhelming feeling of dread.
“Place the documents you are carrying on the stone altar, and then move back.” Instructed the dark figure.
Maxwell had lived in South East Asia long enough, to distinguish unusual accents. He decided that he was dealing with a man who was probably of Thai-Cambodian parentage. His accent implied that he was educated, cultured, and spoke several languages. In fluent French, Maxwell inquired to whom he was speaking, but his request was ignored by the silent figure. Maxwell hesitated, then stumbled forward, and laid his backpack on the altar. Aware that a sudden movement might end his life, he opened it, and spread the documents before him.
A rugged mercenary moved into the flickering lantern light and leafed through the papers, then nodded towards his leader. “This is the information that you wanted.” And he carefully scrutinized the important dossier.
He stared hard at Maxwell; then said. “ My leader has a task for you. He wants you to take information to a person working against the government in Phnom Penh. Then your next task is to smuggle currency and gemstones, out of the country.”
Maxwell quickly responded, “But this was not in the original agreement! I understood that I would be rewarded by Khot Choung with hard cash, or salable gemstones.”
The mercenary smiled cruelly, “Our agreement has changed. If you value your life you will follow our instructions, and agree to our plans. We need to move quickly to set up a bank account offshore, where we can access it when needed. Do you agree!” he demanded.
Paul Maxwell knew that he was dealing with desperate, dangerous men; he had to agree to their terms, or he would forfeit his life. He decided to go along with their plans, and perhaps it would work to his advantage.
“Alright… I agree to your demands. Now tell me what you want me to do?” Maxwell lowered his eyes as his devious mind sprung into gear, and he began to plan his next move.
The mercenary handed Maxwell a plastic wrapped package, and told him where the money and gemstones were to be deposited. “Don’t be foolish enough to keep this for yourself. We will find you, and your death will be slow and painful.” And he laughed cruelly.
Silently Maxwell placed the package into his backpack, and was led to the group of mercenaries waiting for him, in the suffocating darkness of the jungle.
The nightmare journey down the mountain trail seemed endless as he slide helplessly, his bloody hands tightly roped together. As they neared a small village the men roughly covered his eyes, leading him towards a truck hidden in a thicket of bamboo. Maxwell tried to free himself, but the rope cut into his bleeding flesh.
The truck driver crunched the gears, and the swaying vehicle lurched over rough ground, that led away from the silent village. They were traveling in a northwest direction towards Phnom Penh city, and were undetected by the government watchdogs. Maxwell was released on the outskirts of the sleeping city, and a vehicle with darkened windows returned him to a street near his villa.
Breathless with relief at surviving the night, Maxwell stumbled towards his villa and awoke the guard, with a feeble excuse for his disheveled condition. Maxwell entered the silent foyer and stood against the wall, his adrenaline pumping through his veins. Maxwell knew that his life was in peril; these were dangerous men who would stop at nothing to achieve their target; of overthrowing the Cambodian government.
“I must have been crazy to get involved with Khot Choung and his mercenaries… I will have to be seen to be complying with their wishes. Or I’m a dead man!” He thought aloud, as he stumbled up the stairs. Stripping off his sodden clothes, Maxwell stepped into the shower. Closing his eyes he began to relax, as the cold jets of water flowed over him. Maxwell relived the night’s actions, and he began to analyze, to make plans.
“I will have to be very careful, how I handle this. But, why shouldn’t I benefit from this unpleasant experience? I will have to plan my next move very carefully.” Maxwell decided, as he toweled himself dry.
Exhausted he stumbled into his bed, and lay there watching the dawn breaking over the misty river. Finally exhaustion claimed Maxwell, and he suffered a troubled sleep full of shadowy men moving through the jungle. Maxwell slept fitfully until mid-morning; his treachery to colleagues and family pushed aside, as he plans his next maneuver.
Paul Maxwell boarded the Thai Airlines flight for Bangkok, carrying a solid, black briefcase. To the world at large Maxwell presented a confident figure, he was a man used to having his own way. His colossal ego encouraged his fantasy; that he was far more intelligent than others, therefore capably of a higher level of deceit and cunning, which would protect him.
Maxwell had a plan; his responsibilities for his wife and family were secondary, they were unaware of his double lifestyle. His wife, Michelle, was totally ignorant of his plans to double-cross the terrorists, and then use the money for his private ventures. She was innocent of complicity in the dangerous games that he planned, against the power brokers.
Maxwell sat in first-class; a glass of whisky to his lips, and smiled, “Yes…life is exciting, and full of the promise of great rewards,” as his devious mind planned the details of his latest scam. Maxwell closed his eyes, and dreamed of riches beyond his wildest expectations. He had decided to concede to the demands of the Khmer mercenaries; to deposit the money and gems into hidden accounts. But Maxwell was a clever man, and resourceful enough to arrange false statements, proclaiming true value. Paul Maxwell had decided to arrange a secret account for himself, and gradually filter money from the mercenary’s account into his own. The quality gemstones would be sold, and then gradually replaced with stones of lesser value. He believed that the rewards were justifiable, and he began to relax. Maxwell knew that unless the mercenaries were experts on gemstones, they would never discover his deception, until it was too late.
Laughing aloud Maxwell said, “Yes! Life is good, when it turns a problem into a fortune.” And he slept soundly, with a clear mind.
Maxwell caught the afternoon ferry to the beautiful island of Koh Samui. He was determined to succeed with his plans to deceive the mercenaries. Maxwell completed his complex transactions with consummate ease, with the skilled assistance of a bank employee. The young man was completely unaware of Maxwell’s’ deception. Even if his suspicions had been aroused, it was not in his interests to question an important client with secret bank accounts. After all, this island was a tax haven, and a refuge for tax evasion by wealthy clients.
Maxwell alighted from the taxi, and entered the exclusive premises of one of the major gemstone dealers, in Southeast Asia. Business colleagues had recommended this establishment to him, and he was satisfied that confidential treatment was a priority, with these merchants. The jeweler had scanned the diamonds with barely concealed greed, and had commented on their purity. He had remained silent when asked by Maxwell, to replace some gemstones with those of a lesser grade. As payment, the jeweler had accepted several smaller diamonds, and re-packed the best grade diamonds in velvet pouches. The commercial diamonds were placed into plastic envelopes, for safekeeping. Maxwell intended to keep the best diamonds for himself; the remainder was to be deposited into a security box for the Khmer revolutionaries. Maxwell smiled with satisfaction; he was content that he had struck a fair deal, to his benefit. The mercenaries would never know the difference, and would believe that he had followed their instructions to the letter. His last task was to deposit the diamonds into security boxes, at the Hong Kong bank. Smiling contently, that his money and gemstones were safe from prying eyes, Paul Maxwell reveled in the power of a successful transaction.
Laughing quietly, he said, “The mercenaries thought that they were superior by threatening me with death; but I’m too clever for them. They will never realize that I’ve swindled them, until its too late.” And Maxwell stepped into a taxi, and instructed the driver to take him to a secret assignation.
Maxwell had decided to relax, to seek solace in the warm brown arms of the local beauties. Women had always held a fascination for him; they were so willing to surrender to flattery, and the lure of money. Koh Samui was renown for the beauty of its women, and was aptly named ‘the island of love.’
When Maxwell traveled internationally, he seldom thought about his wife, Michelle. It wasn’t that he didn’t care for Michelle, or had lost respect for her, but other considerations would block her from his thoughts. Occasionally, feelings of guilt would overcome him, and he would buy Michelle elegant jewelry, or beautiful Asian art. This time he brought her an ancient Buddhist statue, to compensate for his long absence. Its glowing eyes watched him reproachfully, as he prepared to leave for his evening’s pleasure.
That night he enjoyed the erotic pleasures, of a high-priced call girl. This liaison only heightened his perception of his power, and control over other people. Maxwell felt that he had covered all traces of his devious actions; his empire was intact and his greed was satisfied, for now.
In a buoyant mood Maxwell returned to Bangkok, feeling confident and rewarded by his night of passion. Maxwell decided to forward the ancient Buddha’s statue to Michelle, for safekeeping. He demanded that great care must be taken of his gift, and the hotel staff arranged for DHL couriers to deliver the statue to his home.
“Michelle will enjoy its beauty, and need never know of its intrinsic value to me.” He said ironically.
The hotel was full of people when he arrived, and he booked a suite at the renown, Amari Watergate. Maxwell felt secure here amongst the tourists, and he followed the baggage boy to his room. Smiling secretly, he sat on the bed and took out his black book, searching for a phone number.
“Su Ling, my darling… It’s Paul. I’m in Bangkok, and I want to see you.” And he listened to the excitement building in her voice. “Yes, I have your address, I’ll be there tonight, after completing business.” And with a satisfied smile he walked towards the shower.
Deep in thought Maxwell sat wrapped in a towel, and then he placed his laptop before him. This was his bible, his reservoir of secret documents. Hidden in coded files, was information that he had stolen over the years. A complete record of his illegal transactions and private business deals. It was his servant, and privy to his emails to women all over the world. These were the victims of his lust.
“No-one will ever be able to break this code; these encryption’s. My business transactions are safe from my enemies.” He muttered.
Then he opened his Internet server and sent an email to a woman friend.
‘Hello pretty lady, I’ve been very busy lately, no time for pleasure. I will try to phone you later in the week for dinner. Missing your laughter and lovely smile. Paul.’
Maxwell dressed in casual clothes, and then carefully locked his room. Smiling secretly he stepped into a taxi, and instructed the driver to take him to Pat Pong district.
He was anxious to find solace in the arms of his mistress, Su Ling. Her skill for erotic sex was renown in this city of sin, and he respected her discretion. The humid night closed around Maxwell, as he cleared his mind of business, his wife, and his responsibilities. Thoughts of sexual gratification excited him, and he smiled in anticipation.
Michelle sat before her dressing table, and carefully applied her makeup. She was dressed in elegant silks, and looked forward to another night of expatriate partying. The absence of her husband would not prevent her from seeing her friends. The humid night wrapped around Michelle as she left the villa, and she disregarded the frenetic traffic’s noise as she climbed into a taxi.
She thought of her husband, and wondered what he was doing in Bangkok. It had been yet another sudden departure, disguised as a business trip. Michelle knew that he was up to no good, but she was powerless against his philandering. Paul Maxwell was such a secretive man, and she was almost immune to his endless betrayals, and lies. Long ago she has immured herself from the pain of his treachery, by seeking her own friends and lifestyle.
Paul Maxwell was totally unaware of his wife’s private thoughts, or the embarrassment that he caused her. On the surface they presented a picture of togetherness, to the rest of the world. This illusion worried Michelle; it was time to correct this lie.
Michelle had thought of leaving him several times; but she had rationalized their relationship and had stayed. Michelle enjoyed their luxurious lifestyle, and knew that it would never be the same on her own. To return alone to Australia was something she was not prepared to do; to face the sympathy of friends and family, would be too much to bear. So she embroiled herself in a life crowded with people, who shared common interests. Michelle sunny smile hid her personal problems from the gaze of strangers, as she struggled to survive her pain.
During 1998, Paul and Michelle had returned to Brisbane, Australia; where they visited family and friends. For a short time Paul became a husband again; he was attentive and charming to her. Michelle felt reassured; he was like the man she had married, so long ago.
They traveled to ‘Hayman Island’ resort, and there their personal life had flourished. But on their return to Brisbane, he resumed his secret business dealings, and once again become distant.
Michelle had despaired, ‘What has gone wrong again?’ She questioned. ‘For awhile our relationship seemed renewed, full of love and promise.’ But in her heart she knew that nothing had changed, that he had regressed into a world that she could not share.
One night Michelle told Paul that she was leaving him, to search for a life where she could find happiness and fulfillment.
He acted surprised, hurt by her betrayal of their marriage. “Why do you want to leave me? We’ve got everything to look forward to; you can’t mean this!” he exploded.
Michelle studied her husband, “I’m sorry if this decision has upset you. But I have known for sometime, that our marriage is nothing but a sham. I am tired of your flirtations with other women! You have continued to deny them, but I know that they exist, and that hurt’s me. You have ignored my needs and I must leave you, so that I can have a life worth living. I will pack my things, and leave on Monday.”
Paul Maxwell raged, as he tried to use emotional blackmail, to force Michelle to reconsider her plans. But Michelle had gained strength from her decision, and would not be dissuaded from her plans to leave him.
“Paul, if I believed that it was possible to continue our lives together, to work our way through these problems, then I would stay. But, I know that you can’t be trusted to stop these endless affairs, so my decision stands.” She said firmly.
Her husband had empowered her by his past deceits, and she had gained the strength to follow her own goals in life.
Maxwell slammed out of their house and drove wildly through the city, blaming everyone but himself, for their failed marriage.
“I will never understand women!” He yelled to the wind. “I’ve worked my guts out, and look what I get. I’ve given her the best years of my life; the ungrateful bitch!” Maxwell roared.
Later that night he stopped near the white sands, and smoked a cigarette. Maxwell felt aggrieved, and blamed Michelle for their martial problems.
“If only she had waited! This deal that I’ve pulled off would have set us up for life. Doesn’t she realize the sacrifices that I’ve made for her?” Maxwell thought only of himself, again, his wife’s needs were beyond his comprehension.
Michelle left quietly on Monday morning, taking her own possessions, and went to her sister Caroline’s place. Michelle’s grief over the wasted years, and endless lies besieged her. Her pain overwhelmed her, and she succumbed to her tears. Caroline could only watch her sister fight for reasons to carry on with life, and she guided Michelle through the bad moments. Caroline knew that her sister would survive, if she were given time to grieve for her lost marriage.
Paul Maxwell in his confused state of mind created chaos, wherever he went. He turned to drink, which affected his ability to function at work. His secretary became nervous of him, and kept her distance, as his behavior became even more erratic. Maxwell’s business partners watched him deteriorate rapidly, and they became nervous. He was becoming a liability to the firm, and they began to talk about relieving him of all responsibilities.
Maxwell was oblivious to the warning signs, that his body was sending him; that it was exhausted from past abuses. One night Maxwell sat slumped in his office, his ashtray overflowed with crushed butts, and a whisky was in his hand. He had sunk into lethargy of self-pity, and the alcohol had dulled his senses.
Drawing a mantilla envelope towards him, Maxwell grunted in surprise. The handwritten address should have warned him, that something was wrong. Instead of using his ornate paperknife, he ripped it open, and then stared in amazement. A Mah Jongg tile had clattered onto his desk with the number four, face up.
“Who the hell sent this?” He snarled.
Thoughtfully, Maxwell held the tile in his hand, and turned it over and over in his fingers. In his befuddled state, he was trying to make sense of this subliminal message…but from whom? Suddenly violent pain ripped throughout his chest, and he could not breathe. Clutching his chest Maxwell struggled to rise, but his legs would not support him, and he slumped heavily to the floor. Alone he rapidly approached death, helpless to save himself, the final insult. In death Maxwell continued to clutch deaths’ envoy; his desire for wealth and power, had been his final defeat.
Copywrite: Leonie J Campbell
'The phone calls begin, and Michelle is irretrievable drawn into the world of evil within Southeast Asia.
Michelle courageous decision to leave her husband was merely the first step to recovery, and to begin to shape her own identity. Her home in Queensland becomes her sanctuary and her creativity blossoms in the tranquillity of the Australian countryside. Michelle is fascinated by the opportunities before her; her writing and her expressions in ceramics open her mind to new beginnings. And she is content. She is finally safe from the sinister influence of Maxwell’s greed for power; but is she?
Circumstances beyond her control are about to fling Michelle Maxwell into a world of intrigue and dangerous liaisons, deep into the political mire of Southeast Asia. Her husband’s sudden death has left behind a trail of lies and political corruption that will threaten not only her life but also her lover, Nicholas Launceton.
‘Michelle walked inside and picked up the phone, “Hello, Michelle speaking.” And she heard the pipes of an international call.
“Hello!” she repeated impatiently.
“I must speak with Paul Maxwell, immediately! He owes me,’’ said a male voice with an Asian accent.
“I’m sorry, but my husband died two years ago!” Michelle said in confusion. “Who are you and what do you want?” The disconnection rang loud in her ear. Michelle shrugged her shoulders and muttered aloud, “That’s the fifth time someone has rung for Paul in the last six months. It can’t always be a wrong number.’
This powerful story weaves a hypnotic spell, and draws you through Michelle’s terror until the final clue unfolds. Michelle life is about to explode with sinister reality and only Nicholas’s strength and love can save her.'