Lenny Petrocelli had always been a slacker, a mediocre low-life, getting by on his good looks and street smarts. One day he woke up. Entangled by his gangland bosses in the web of child prostitution and human trafficking, he was being set up as the fall guy to take the rap, if the horrifying but lucrative enterprise went down.
Seeing the violence and abuse young girls from Asia were subjected to in the gruesome world of sex slavery, Lenny did the most difficult but the most important thing in his entire life: He became a better person. Now he would risk everything, even his life, to put an end to this savage exploitation.
Peer into this awful world. See it through Lenny’s eyes. Discover what’s possible even in the face of the worst, most pernicious evil and cruelty.
Embrace the promise of redemption and the power of love.
If this gritty novel rings true, it’s for good reason. “Petrocelli” is based on actual stories from a violent and gruesome under-world, where millions of children and adolescents across the globe are held in bondage as slaves.
Targeted Age Group:: 18 – 80
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Various authoritative articles and news stories, and the widely reported protests against the use of child and forced labor by prominent American corporations or their direct suppliers — the Gap, Nike, Levi-Strauss, Wal-Mart, Phillips-Van Heusen, Hanes, J.C. Penney, Firestone, to name a few — had years ago piqued my awareness and concern about widespread practices related to trafficking. But it was the time I spent during 2007 living in Africa, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia which really codified my understanding of the flesh trade for both sweatshops and the sex service industry. It is currently estimated that human trafficking is annually a 36 billion dollar business worldwide. I have also read there are more than 25 million people in the world kept in bondage as slaves. I fear this is a low figure.
A non-fiction book I read while in Thailand called Sex Slaves by Louise Brown (© Copyright June 1, 2001: Vurago UK) became the central inspiration for this novel. It elucidates in excruciating detail what countless young girls (and boys) must endure as they are bought and sold in the ever-expanding global market for young prostitutes. This relatively brief but powerful book prompted the extensive research on my part into human trafficking, which became the factual underpinning for my story.
Though Petrocelli is entirely fictional, shortly after I finished writing it, I started to see more and more articles appear on credible online news services (e.g. mainstream sites such as bbc.co.uk and cnn.com) which paralleled my story line. These reports both confirmed the accuracy of much of what I describe in the book and illustrate the expanding scope of these criminal and abusive enterprises.
While there is no shortage of crises these days, human trafficking is emblematic of a sickness that is spreading throughout the world. It is a horrible and heartbreaking indictment of our lack of progress in many areas of human rights and one that goes to the core of pandemic contemporary amorality.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I based the sex slaves on girls I interviewed in Southeast Asia.
The main character, Lenny Petrocelli, is completely a product of my imagination but inspired by a lot of underachievers I knew growing up in Detroit. These were guys who were smart but lacked both role models and initiative. They were products of the blue collar community of suburban Detroit, fellows who just got by and who were not driven by much more than the desire to get laid and stay out of jail.
Alicia is the kind of girl I always love meeting, incredibly bright, quirky, “open-minded”, above being judgmental or being judged. She is passionate and in love with life.
St. John the Baptist of Hell’s Kitchen is a composite of a lot of men who came back from Vietnam FUBAR, and lived out their lives victims of permanent PTSD.
Christine is the kind of Christian I suspect is quite common but who rarely comes to terms with the hollowness of their beliefs or how poorly it serves them in terms of being fully-functional human beings.
Bishop Mulcahey was inspired by some of the good men of the cloth in the Catholic Church who take their responsibilities seriously and put themselves on the line to serve the spiritual needs of their congregations and make the world a better place. Fortunately, it’s only a tiny minority of priests who molest children.
The corrupt police were easy to capture. They’re everywhere you look. Shameful scumbags who hide behind their badges and if they weren’t in uniform would be street thugs working for the Mob.
The two gangland bosses also were easy pickings. I basically looked at the kind of ruthless men who are now sucking the lifeblood out of the American Dream, usually CEOs and Wall Street Bankers, and just shifted their office settings a bit. Voila! Sinister, cynical, amoral creeps who will do anything to make a buck, even buy and sell innocent young girls.
Love is a Four-Letter Word
The call to Lenny did not go well. Not from Alicia’s perspective. Lenny refuse to talk about anything on the phone and insisted they meet face-to-face. He kept saying the same things over and over about a gazillion times. He sounded frantic.
“You have to believe me!”
“It’s not what you think.”
“Please meet with me.”
“I need your help!”
“Please trust me.”
She agreed to meet with him but only if she could bring someone.
Was she afraid of him?
He frightened her. He had betrayed her. He filled her with anger. Shame. Vindictiveness. She reviled him. She loathed him. She despised him.
She hated him …
She loved him.
There. She said it.
Hearing his voice on the phone. Desperate. Pleading. Certainly not the cocksure, fearless, brazen Lenny she had always known. A completely different side of the man.
But still him. And as always happened, his voice went crashing through all of her feigned indifference, the real antipathy, the anger, the hurt, the protective walls, the Kevlar around her heart — and reached deep deep deep inside of her and unleashed the hot fury of … love.
It was an inexplicable, irrational, nonsensical, counterintuitive, destructive passion.
She hated him for it.
She loved him for it.
He was her poison pill.
He was her gateway to Paradise.
He was her arsenic-laced Kool-Aid.
People who take a cynical, fatalistic view of the human condition — or was it a realistic one? — suggest that there is hard-wired into the human organism, into each and every one of us without exception, a self-destructive flaw. Something lurking as a recessive gene or a subconscious latency. Some crack in the tile. Sometimes microscopic and nearly invisible. But there.
It was this defining glitch which ran as a silent partner to the fine-tuned rationalizations, beautifully-architected systems of thought, brilliantly-wrought and highly-sophisticated political and moral philosophies, paradise-embracing theologies, breathtaking mythologies and analogies and paradigms and models and hierarchies — all of which allegedly set man apart from the beasts of the jungle — which then went on to propel him toward the most hideous and shameful manifestations of his presence in the world: war, genocide, torture, ethnic cleansing, serial killing, rape. Always allegedly for some perceived greater or smaller good.
It was the congenital flaw that allowed high-minded God-fearing men to exterminate whole native populations to put in place settlements to glorify the very same God who commanded their morality and high-mindedness.
It was the gleam of suicidal curiosity in the eye of the man with his finger on the button.
It was what prompted a good family man to risk all and fuck his secretary.
It was the grenade with the pin pulled at the center of our souls.
Under the Dior, Versace, Gabbana, Donna Karan, de la Renta and Dolce, we all had a bomb strapped to our chests.
Lenny was Alicia’s bomb.
That was the gist of it.
These were the thoughts that Alicia was sharing with Christine right now, in a rambling, barely coherent monologue at the Mangiami Café in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
It was late Saturday afternoon, a few minutes before 6:00, the time she had agreed to meet Lenny. And Christine — sweet dear Christine, God bless her — had agreed to come along. They had arrived a little early. Christine still didn’t look very good. But at least she was out.
Christine was quiet, so Alicia was doing all the talking.
“I don’t understand it. Lenny is so completely the wrong person for me. But that’s the way it is. I’m going to tell you something I have never ever told anyone. I can barely admit this to myself. You know I was married. For almost three years. Do you know that on my wedding night, in the honeymoon suite of our hotel … I can see this like it was just yesterday. There we were, making love, the end of an exhausting but truly beautiful day. Sean was on top of me and my eyes were closed. And with my new husband inside me I was imagining that it was Lenny I was making love to. That’s right, Lenny. I am so fucked up.”
“Alicia. I don’t think we ever love someone for who they are. We love them for what we think they could be. Then we try to bring that out of them. That is the real joy of love.”
“God, Christine. That is so you. So brilliant. So incomprehensible …”
Alicia’s train of thought was halted by the sight of Lenny coming through the door.
Christine saw the look in her eyes and turned to see for herself.
Lenny was much better looking than she had imagined. Though he had a worried look on his face, he still seemed confident, in command. His face even more striking the closer he got. Character and intelligence in his eyes. Not the thug or rough character she had expected.
Lenny got halfway into the long narrow café and spotted them. His eyes locked on Alicia. She met his gaze and tried to give nothing away. She was feeling such a wild mix of emotions, she wasn’t sure where one ended and the next began.
Lenny sat down. No one spoke for a full two minutes. The silence was as thick as cement. Alicia just continued to stare at him. He looked at her. Looked away. Looked at her.
Christine broke the deadlock. Stating the obvious.
“I’m Christine. Alicia’s friend.”
Correction from Alicia.
“Pleased to meet you. I wish the circumstances were better.”
Alicia. “So do I.”
“It’s not what you think.”
“You already said that.”
“Alicia. We both know that I’ve been a fuck-up most of my life. So maybe I get what I deserve. But what has happened … this is not what I bargained for.”
“You’re a well-paid sleazeball. What could be better?”
“Okay. Touché. I can’t go toe-to-toe with you in a battle of words. You’re way too clever for me. So just let me lay out a simple proposition. You can take it or leave it.”
“Twenty words or less.”
“Okay. Better than that. Here it goes.”
Lenny looked squarely into Alicia’s eyes. It was so intense it was all she could do to hold on and return his gaze.
“I want to do better.”
“Why are you calling the Bishop, Lenny?”
So much for tip-toeing around the issue.
“He knows everybody. The people I need to get to. My only way out is to blow this thing apart. Take it down. I can’t do this anymore. I‘ve got to get out. Before they kill me.”
“So you want to save your own precious hide. What if your hide is not worth saving?”
“Then the least I can do is set free a lot of very sweet innocent young girls who deserve better than the hand they’ve been dealt. If I get blown away, call it collateral damage.”
Two more minutes of dead silence. This time Alicia was looking down. She didn’t want Lenny to see that she was crying.
“Alicia. I talked to the Bishop. Very briefly.”
Whispering. “I hope it went well for you.”
“It went. We’ll see.”
Christine stared straight ahead. Not knowing what to think. A newsreel played in her mind. A disconnected collage. Nong Khai. Bishop Mulcahey. Bangkok. The Djin Djin girls. Danny’s funeral.
Alicia still could not bring herself to look at Lenny.
His phone rang.
“Fuck! I hate these things.” Popped it open.
“Ed here. You’re going to San Francisco. We’ll meet you there.”
“You leave in three hours. Maybe it’s a little short notice. But that’s the way it is, Petrocelli. You’re on US Airways 5966 leaving Kennedy at 9:10. That’s Kennedy. You got that?”
“Right. Right. US Airways 5966. Kennedy. I’ll call you as I’m boarding.”
He closed the phone and slipped it into his coat pocket.
“I’m sorry. I gotta go.”
He was out the door. It was 6:15 and the long-anticipated, much-dreaded meeting was over. Alicia was still looking at her hands, palms up in her lap. Christine watched Lenny all the way out the door, then turned to Alicia and put her finger softly to her cheek.
“He’s a very handsome man. Whatever he’s done in the past, I think he’s a good man.”
“Christine, with my whole heart and soul, I hope you’re right.”
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