Better Late Than Never (excerpt)
Chapter 12 – Hell on Earth
As we left the plane and walked to customs many hugs were shared among the passengers. Nervous apprehension surrounded me as we left customs and headed into the airport to find the promoter. I wasn’t expecting to see TV cameras and journalists in the greeting area to interview people from the “lost flight”. There were even a couple of entertainment writers waiting to talk with the Americans.
“Sir, what would have to say to the president of the airline who is standing over there?” I was asked.
“I’d ask him if Mickey or Donald was helping run the airline.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the entire situation was handled in a Mickey Mouse way. We were left in the dark. It was cartoonish.”
The promoter grabbed me by the arm and hastily pulled all three of us into a waiting car.
“Was it that bad?” his cute assistant asked.
“It was far worse that that. I’ll tell you over drinks later.”
“I look forward to it.” she said with a big smile.
The promoter pointed to sights along the way and lots of nice buildings and big homes. Conversely there were mostly older cars and people wore out-of-date clothes. The few black people we saw really looked bad. On the other side of the freeway were weather-beaten dwellings. There wasn’t much going on over there.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s Soweto. It’s not as bad as you’ve been told.”
“Well, it looks pretty bad to me.”
“Our blacks have it better than anywhere else in Africa.”
“You said we were going to be able to use black and white musicians and singers. Is that still happening?”
“Yes. You’ll meet some of them tonight at Alfie’s club.”
“Alfie’s club has the best music and great food.” his assistant offered.
Greg piped in, “I’m looking forward to meeting the people who will be helping us.”
“You’ll be impressed,” the promoter said proudly. “We’re almost at the hotel.”
The area we were entering resembled Westwood Village in Los Angeles. Lots of trees, nice shops and apartment buildings dotted the streets. As we pulled up to the hotel, two black bellmen came out with a white guy. The white guy led us into the lobby. The General Manager and his assistant waited for us at the desk.
The GM came over, “Welcome to the Claridge. I am Klaus Verhooven. I am the General Manager. If there is anything at all you need while you are here, please let me know.”
“Thank you, Mr. Verhooven.”
“Please call me Klaus.” He said as he led us to the desk. “This is Anton, my assistant.
Katie is our Front Desk Manager. They are here to help you as well.”
Katie was beautiful, tall slender and amazing eyes. She organized all the paperwork we needed to sign to check-in, “Mr. Karlsruher, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Please call me Rick and thank you.”
“Everything gets billed to me. In fact, have them all checked-in under my name,” the promoter told Katie.
“Certainly.” Anton said as he handed the promoter all the paperwork.
It took the promoter and his assistant Anya a few minutes to fill out all registration documents. I guessed they wanted to keep our names off the books to avoid any potential problems or keep the press away. After they did, I asked, “Katie could you get me a copy of everything for my records.”
“I’ll have it done in about fifteen minutes, if that’s soon enough. I’ll have it all in an envelope for you here at the desk.”
Klaus and Anton joined Anya and the promoter in the elevator with us. There was plenty of room for the bellmen to ride up with us, but they were forced to take another elevator. They got to our floor before we did. One took Greg and Betty to their room. The other came with Klaus, Anya and me to my room. A few steps from the room, one of bags slipped off the cart. Instinctively, I reached to pick it up.
Klaus looked stunned, “Please no. That’s what we have those people for sir.”
I was stunned. Yeah, if blacks were treated better than we heard as the promoter kept telling us, this didn’t show it. Klaus opened the door and showed into the room. The bellman put my bags into the closet leaving the small one on a bench by the bed. I reached to tip him and saw a bizarre custom we would see from now on in South Africa. The bellman grasped his wrist with one hand as his other hand opened and his head was tilted down so as not to look directly at me. I intentionally over tipped the bellman to overcome the slight paid him on the way to the room. Klaus opened the drapes to show a panoramic view of the entire city.
“Is everything to your liking?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Then I’ll be going.” Klaus said as he left and closed the door.
Anya smiled. “I guess I’ll be leaving, too. This looks very comfortable.”
“Yes, it does. Tonight should be fun.”
“I think it will be.” She said moving closer to me. She put her arm around my waist, leaned over and kissed me. She moved away, then back to me and kissed me again. “It does look comfortable.”
As I walked her to the door, she turned and we kissed again this time with tongues. Tonight was looking very good indeed. She left.
I unpacked a bit and went down to the front desk to get my copies of the check-in materials. Arriving at the desk, Katie came out motioning me to have a seat in the lobby.
“I wanted to explain everything to you,” she said as we sat. She spread the papers on the table.
“It doesn’t sound like you are from South Africa.”
“I’m from Kenya, but there isn’t much opportunity for me there.”
“As nice and smart as you seem to be, I find that hard to believe.”
She blushed, “Thank you so much, but we don’t have many hotels in Nairobi where I'd have the possibility for advancement.”
“I like your ambition.”
Her smile and her eyes lit up the room as she explained all the sign-in materials.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but you came a long way alone. You’re not married?” she asked with a smile.
“No, and I think my girlfriend broke up with me just before we left.”
“She’s not very bright.”
I was blushing, “Thank you.”
Yes, we were flirting. It was innocent, but it was also great. I think she noticed I was puzzled.
“It looks like you have a fan in Anya.”
“I might, but I don’t get it. We barely said three words. To be honest, I am a little uncomfortable. I hope she’s not setting me up. That could pose problems.”
“You’ll figure it out.”
Several people walked in together from a minivan. There was only one other person behind the desk.
“It looks like your friend might need your help.”
She shrugged, “I guess so.”
She was amazing and so nice. I knew there was great potential for headaches here. How to navigate these obviously treacherous waters baffled me. Anya wanted me and if I screwed this up she could make my stay extremely uncomfortable. Why did Katie have to show up?
Anya picked us up at about 8 PM. Katie had left by then. Anya came directly to my room. She did look really good. We spent about half an hour fooling around before going to get Greg and Betty. I felt really bad about that. I was thinking about Katie.
Alfie’s club was on a bizarre street. The street was surrounded by walled homes. Part of the sidewalk was a boardwalk similar to the one in Atlantic City. The rest was very old cement. The stores were old and rundown. Through the windows, you could see empty shelves. What was for sale appeared old and patched together. The outside world’s economic sanctions were choking South Africa.
Alfie’s place was tired and dingy. The bar was more of a counter-top than a real bar. Each table was different than the next and no two chairs seemed to match. The clientele was mixed which shocked me. What was more surprising were the pictures on the walls. They included Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Hugh Masekela and many others hung in the dusty room. This was long before Photoshop. I couldn’t believe all those superstars would be able to find this hole in the wall.
As I looked around, the steaks looked good, but It didn’t look like they had more than one bottle of each kind of booze, a few bottles of wine and a refrigerator containing a couple of cases of beer. There were lots of people here. Was Alfie going to run out of booze? I was very confused. Alfie’s didn’t seem to have enough product for this big a crowd.
Shortly after we sat down, the promoter leaned over to me, “You’ve had a tough trip. I think you should take two days off to get your bearings and get over the jet lag.”
“Do we have the time?”
“It’s better to wait a couple of days than to do it over.”
“That sounds good. Thanks.”
A young black kid and an older white guy went up on stage with guitars. The white guy started playing some tasty, jazzy blues riffs. He was so smooth. The kid couldn’t have been more than 16-18 or so. I figured it was teacher and student. The kid mirrored the older guy’s riffs but with a little more rock flavor. The kid slowed down and looked at his guitar. He tapped with his fingers. He tapped the strings. Then he stretched them a little. I don’t know what he did next but instantaneously his guitar soared. The place erupted. He went higher and higher. The old guy started playing co-lead. It was beyond amazing.
I looked at the promoter, “Please tell me these guys are going to play with us.”
He smiled, “The night after tomorrow you’ll hear your drummer, bass and horns.”
“Are they this good?”
I was very happy. A large black man came over to the table with an Indian woman. The promoter stood up and greeted him. “Rick, this is my friend Lefty. He went to university in America.”
“Nice to meet you, Lefty. Where did you go to school?”
“I got an MBA from Harvard.”
“Would you mind if I asked you a question?”
He started laughing, “I’ll answer it before you ask it. I came home to train the next generation of blacks so that some of us will be ready when apartheid ends.”
“Doesn’t that make you a marked man?”
“Well, I represent several white companies who want to do business in the townships.”
“Do your employers or the police know what else you do?”
“I keep the two separate and I make the distilleries I represent a lot of money. Would you like to come to Soweto tomorrow night?”
“Is it safe for me?”
“I’ll call the hotel and meet you in the lobby.”
He saw my nervousness,” I don’t know how to put this...”
“How can a black man get into your hotel if he isn’t an employee?”
“Are you psychic?”
Lefty laughed. “Believe it or not, I’m not black.”
I think Lefty was the blackest person I have ever met, “What?”
“You see, I have two white great grandmothers. That makes me colored.”
Anya, the promoter, Lefty and his girlfriend were all laughing at my confusion.
His girlfriend tried to explain, “Indians and coloreds have rights Africans don’t. Lefty and I can travel if we are willing to wait.”
Lefty entered, “Hospitals and schools are much better for coloreds than for Africans.”
“Do I even want to know how people know the difference?”
“Being American you won’t like it,” Lefty explained, “It’s on your birth certificate and identity papers. It follows you all your life and you can’t change it. People try to buy colored birth certificates. It also lets you live in better places.”
I was shaking my head. “Aren’t there about ten times as many blacks as whites in South Africa?”
Lefty laughed, “Now you are making yourself a target. They have all the guns and we can’t vote…yet. So, would you like to join me and see how the other part of South Africa lives?”
The promoter wasn’t happy about this turn of events, but I had to do it. If it were very dangerous or if I could get into trouble, wouldn’t the promoter or Anya jump in to stop me?
“I’d like to do that Lefty.”
Lefty nodded respectfully to me. That made my night.
The steak was wonderful, and the music continued to be great. Several other people sat in and a wonderful black lady sang. It was an incredible night.
As it got later, Anya’s hands found several parts of me. One under the table, the other had her fingers running through my hair. Normally, I’d be loving it knowing what was inevitably about to happen. I didn’t know how to stop it short of faking being sick.
Was I really falling for Katie? How could I explain this to her tomorrow? Katie saw what was going on with Anya and seemed to try to understand. But would she understand me coming back to the hotel the next morning or Anya leaving when Katie was working? It’s one thing to talk about something like this in the abstract. Even a great person would have significant challenges to be accepting of activities like the ones that were about to happen if they would see them up close.
Was the good part of me finding its way through the fear and despair? Could I break through the fog that was enveloping me?
I can’t make any excuses for spending the night with Anya. I did it. That’s what happened. She had to be at work early and dropped me off at the hotel before Katie got to work. I went to my room, took a shower and went to sleep. A few hours later I woke up and called Greg’s room. He wasn’t there. I had to go through the lobby on the way to the pool to find him. As I got there, Katie was going on a break. She motioned for me to meet her outside.
We met on the street on the street a couple of doors down. Her smile was brilliant. I had trouble looking her in the eye. She leaned over and held my hand.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. It’s scary down here. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.”
I held her hand tighter and laughed, “Would going to Soweto tonight with a black guy fall into that category?”
“Please be careful. But you want to see it for yourself, don’t you?”
“I’ve got to get back to work. Please be careful.” She leaned over and we kissed sweetly and briefly.
Chapter 13 – Seeing The Real South Africa
“You aren’t actually dumb enough to go to Soweto are you?” Greg asked.
“Yes, Lefty is coming by in a couple of minutes.”
“My uncle can’t protect you there.”
“You don’t think we have protection down here.”
“I’m not sure. This isn’t like California or New York or even Europe.”
This was the first time I had seen Greg off his game. I kept thinking about how odd it was. Greg took off.
Within a couple of minutes, Lefty came into the lobby to get me.
“Are you sure you want to join me tonight?”
“I won’t think any less of you if you don’t.”
“I gave you my word.”
“You don’t have to be macho. You will hear things and see things you’ve never seen. You’ve got a good heart. Some of this will hurt you. I’m here if you need me.”
That frightened and soothed me. What was I about to see and hear? There was a three-year-old top-of-the-line BMW out front.
“Is that yours?”
“One of mine.” Lefty said chuckling.
“I went to Harvard,” he said slapping me on the back.
We got into the car and started our drive.
“You like her, don’t you?”
Thinking he was talking about, Anya I responded, “Not really. I can’t figure out how not to be involved with her.”
“Not the girl from last night; the one who works at the hotel.”
“How the hell did you know that?”
“It was in her eyes as you left. I understand your dilemma. Your secret is safe with me.”
“Remind me never to play poker with you.”
“Get ready. We are about to enter our hell. Remember hell is a location, not the people who are forced to be in that location.”
He was being very serious. He truly loved the people of Soweto. It’s the only explanation of why he stays when he doesn’t have to. Within less than a mile we went from world-class freeway to potholed streets and ending on an uneven gravel and dirt road. How could this happen so quickly? If this were the overt face of the community, what could be lurking out of sight?
There were burned out cars and junk on the street. We went past hovels. I felt myself getting ill. Lefty saw my face and body language. He patted me on the back.
“It will get better, but there is worse.”
“Worse than this?”
“Much worse. You couldn’t handle it. The world knows but doesn't want to tell the whole truth.”
He cut me off, “There are evil people. Like it or not, there are many of them in this country.”
We turned off onto a semi-paved road. Soon there were small but basically clean yards. Clean in comparison to the hell we had just seen. These people tried.
Lefty turned into a driveway. There were lots of people in the yard. I heard laughter and music. Getting out of the car, I saw a lady sitting at a card table with a cigarette box taking money.
“The government won’t allow us to have bars in our own townships. This is what we call a shebeen. It’s like a moving club or party. The person whose home we use charges a small fee to pay for the food and liquor. Hopefully, they will make a small profit. Every penny is huge here.”
“The government won’t even let you have your own bars?”
“They are doing everything they can to keep us from building an African middle class. The government understands how dangerous that could be.”
Lefty paid our fee. We went into the living room. People were eating, drinking and having fun. My presence startled a lot of them. Lefty laughed.
“This is my friend from America. His name is Rick. He bravely wanted to see our township for himself rather than listening to the Dutch tell him how phenomenal it is.”
There were cheers, which made me very self-conscious. An older man brought me a drink and welcomed me to his son’s house.
A man about thirty approached, “Are you the American from the paper?”
“What are you talking about, sir?”
A lady said, “You were on the front page of the Joburg newspaper with your comments about your flight. It’s was very funny.”
Lefty was laughing, “I didn’t know I was bringing a star. What did you say?”
“Given the fact it took three days to fly from Brussels to Joburg, I asked if Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck happened to be running the airline.”
Lefty was laughing loudly, “You may have to watch your back. The Dutch don’t like people talking to them the way you did.”
A couple of other people clapped. Others stopped by to welcome me and tell me they would look after me. I was really touched. Some of these people clearly had little to nothing but they were willing to help a stranger.
“It’s not a game, young man,” an elegantly mannered old man said to me. “You don’t understand. You couldn’t possibly understand.”
“Understand what, sir?”
“For instance, calling me “sir” would make you a target to any white who heard you.”
Lefty looked over. He was quite serious, “Jambo is right. Forget compassion, forget manners, and for your own safety you must think more like they do. We will understand.”
“You can do more quietly listening and taking our stories home with you. Tell them to all who will listen.”
“But I’m a nobody back home.”
“We are nobodies here. Who better to tell our story?” A very old lady said quietly.
Soon the party was breaking up. I received lots of hugs and wishes of good luck. Lefty and I got into the car to head back to the hotel.
“You can’t let anyone see you like this ever while you are here.”
“It won’t be safe. Your story while in South Africa is that you went with me to my cousin’s house for dinner and a few drinks.”
“I can’t do that.”
“You have to do this. You can’t even tell the kid you brought with you. The reality is I’d bet at least one person in the shebeen was a paid Security Police informant.”
“You are talking crazy.”
Lefty pulled the over to the side of the road. “Not listening to me is crazy. You may have been active in all sorts of protests in college in the US. If you did one here, you could end up dead. Please Rick, listen to me. I know asking you to do this is wrong. But you are my friend. Please let me look out for you while you are in my country.”
This scared me more than anything I had ever heard. I was trembling. “I went to your cousin’s house. We had dinner and drinks.”
It was still early when we got back to the hotel. I followed the company line at breakfast the next morning with Greg, Betty, the promoter and Anya. It was difficult, but I did it.
A little while later Greg and I decided to walk the few blocks to downtown. All of a sudden, I heard the screeching of tires and brakes. Then there was the unmistakable thud of a car hitting a person, then another person, then a light pole. I looked up to see a minivan wrapped around a pole. Two white people were on the ground. Several cops appeared out of nowhere. They helped those two victims. A black lady was on the ground bleeding. Three cops surrounded her. They didn’t help her. Ambulances helped the white people and the driver. The black lady was bleeding and crying.
“Aren’t you going to help her? She might die. Make a tourniquet at least.”
“Move along, kaffir lover. You don’t expect me to touch that, do you?”
I was on the verge of attacking the cops. Greg grabbed me and pulled me as hard as he could. I was sick. I was trembling. I pushed him away and ran. I just ran.
I had seen the pure evil all those people told me about last night. They told me so matter-of-factly that it seemed surreal. We were living in the last quarter of the twentieth century. This couldn’t be happening.
To this day, I still cannot fathom the level of their indoctrinated madness and evil. It was incomprehensible to anyone with a soul.
I had to be perfect. My first test was upon me. Katie was working. I tried to hide my pain and revulsion.
“Hi.” She was beaming. Then she looked at me, ran from behind the counter and dragged me into an office. “What happened?”
I couldn’t say anything. I tried, but nothing came out of my mouth.
“You saw the accident.”
She hugged me. I could feel her tears on my neck.
I remember my body giving way as we hugged. To this day, I break into a cold sweat thinking about that morning. I still can’t comprehend the level of inhumanity I saw that morning.
Better Late Than Never
Reality, memoir ties in with with another fiction title
Trident represents many true life stories that show the world to readers and include famous people in them.
The hook is life is truly stranger than fiction – another hook is you can get another book that is naturally paired with this one that is about a very hot topic in the world that is 100% opposite of this book. We can pair an outrageously humorous book with this terrifying true story.
A Story Almost Told tells of my real life odyssey trying to get a movie made. It starts out innocently and has many famous people innocently involved. Included in the story are stories that are individually amazing, but taken, in toto, defy any logic or rationality. From the beginning, it is amazing. The IRS and FBI use my dream as bait in a sting. We get to see the true horrors of apartheid in South Africa and immediately thereafter the opulence of Monte Carlo and even being arrested in New Orleans. There is much more.
The Target audience is anyone who enjoys excitement, seeing different places and real life.
I’d say the age group is 21+.
I have had an interesting life. I have done writing, music producing and international marketing. I even started a website to help new/undiscovered authors that has had over 6,000,000 page views.
As a platform, I have about 1700 Twitter followers, an email list of about 8000. I am an amazing interview. With Trident’s access and the publisher’s web, we’ll make both books major hits and likely get movie deals.
I have a degree in communications from Wake Forest University.
My style is conversational. I draw people into the story and make them think they are there. I’ve been told my personality is a bigger than life.
I love sports, movies, comedy, reading, music and being with people.
I live in Huntington Beach, CA.