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  • Writer's pictureCharles Harned

The World Market

I've finished a new book!

The World Market, also known as the Global Shadow Economy, is a loosely connected web of illicit activity spanning the globe. Everything under the sun, from drugs to arms to human trafficking. It has no centralized authority or visible leadership. Its heady business occurs under the nose, in blatant view, and more often than we would care to envisage with express consent of the world’s collective governments.

If you enjoy books like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or Sidney Sheldon's Master of the Game, then The World Market is for you. It's a fast-paced and edgy family saga riddled with criminal conspiracy and breathtaking locales. I'm currently knee-deep in the process of editing and working up a synopsis and query to start pitching agents.

Here's the first chapter:

Friday, January 7

Leila Madani eyed the newcomer over polarized Bulgari Flora sunglasses. He had materialized in an eclectic crowd clogging the flagged Dubai pathway. Emiratis in white thobes and flowing ghutras speckled western vacationers without a care in the world and a cluster of laughing Egyptian women. The man in their midst was different. Humorless blue eyes and a faint patchwork of scars marring a pointed chin. His dirty blond hair was shaved on both sides and hung in a knot beyond the crown of his skull.

Leila remained transfixed until a hand squeezed her own. She glanced down at the offender. It was a rare perfect day, seventy degrees in the illustrious “City of Gold”, and an afternoon of shopping had been particularly gratifying. The Dubai Mall overshadowed by the awe-inspiring Burj Khalifa was always crowded, but today she hadn’t minded. A uniformed porter had transferred a dozen bags from designer shops to an armed security guard who spirited them ahead to her hotel. Her partner, often moody or far away in his own world, had never once lost his temper.

She looked up and the man was gone. Leila guessed he was around forty, though she could have been off by a decade in either direction. Most members of the opposite sex weren’t as hard to peg. It wasn’t like her to act this way, fixated on a stranger she spied on the street. Under normal circumstances she was cool and distant, an archetype of Zen detachment for over-eager tabloid photographers. They could click away all they wanted. In Leila Madani they never received an ounce of emotion.

“What are you staring at? We’re going to be late for dinner.”

She readjusted her sunglasses on the bridge of her nose before flashing a stunning smile.

“It’s nothing.” Her partner didn’t seem convinced, so she added, “Stop frowning. It’s bad for your skin.”

When-Tan Xhu was the kind of exotic Chinese businessman that would have been wasted living in his mostly unglamorous homeland. Lucky for her he spent much of the year aboard a yacht called La Beatriz that conjured jealousy in any Arab prince or sheikh, and the rest in lavish hotels. Le Royal Meridien, on the ritzy Marsa Dubai beachfront overlooking Palm Jumeirah, was no exception.

He wrapped an arm around her as they navigated the colonnaded sidewalk.

“I don’t want anything to spoil our celebration.” Even the timbre of his voice sounded like money. Internally, Leila swooned.

When-Tan may have lacked her celebrity status, but he certainly didn’t lack in looks. Compact and rippling with muscle, his angular face and black hair contrasted with a blond lock that brushed his forehead. He was never seen in public without his customary dark suit and Italian leather shoes or personalized Nike Air Jordan sneakers that cost a staggering amount. He stood out on Dubai’s crowded streets. Leila appreciated that.

How much money he possessed was something of a mystery. Leila had tried to wrest an actual figure from him—her uncanny power of manipulation and sexual prowess working in unison—to no avail. But it was significant. In the billions, without a doubt, if some accountant had the patience to tally everything. The kind of fortune precious few could claim.

What he did for a living remained even more mysterious. She knew not to ask too many questions. Xhu Holdings had been founded by When-Tan’s father and uncle three decades ago. The partnership was a roaring success. The bulk of their assets had passed into When-Tan’s manicured hands when his uncle retired and his father was killed in a plane crash.

Xhu Holdings started as a construction firm. When-Tan vowed to change all that. His first step was acquiring a business partner. Leila had met him once, at a nightclub in Macau. She had no intention of doing so again.

The second step was a grand entrance into several unconventional industries formerly untouched by Xhu Holdings. Leila had been brought into the fold—to appease her—on the hazy details of five ventures. The prodigal son quickly purchased a Chinese soccer team, rights to an Asian beauty pageant, and minority stake in one of Macau’s most revered casinos. He and his partner entered the music business to the tune of an idolized Singapore pop group that was said to be capable of taking on the entrenched competition in Korea.

He had not left construction entirely behind. Xhu Holdings was one party among several responsible for a handful of ultra-thin towers rocketing toward the heavens around Central Park in New York City. Fear-inspiring to look at, let alone reside in. Leila had balked at When-Tan’s announcement that he purchased the penthouse, well over a thousand feet in the air, for them to cohabit when the first tower was completed.

He allowed her to scratch the surface of his professional life. The rest, which began and ended with his shady business partner in Macau, Leila commiserated, remained a mystery.

Dubai’s shorefront was lined with restaurants, extravagant hotels, and more shopping against a backdrop of skyscrapers. A sterile, manmade paradise on the edge of the desert where rich and famous made and spent fortunes in equal measure.

More resorts and mansions lined Palm Jumeirah. Dubai’s other artificial islands, all visible from the waterfront, remained desolate. Leila wondered if that would change in the future. If When-Tan became rich enough he could develop mansions or a chain of hotels on one, she mused. Hell, if her film career kept its current trajectory, maybe she could become rich enough.

She had received the call while trying on a pair of Louboutin heels that cost a small fortune. The American director had loved everything about her and wanted to offer her a role. The kind of moonshot part that transformed mere mortals into Hollywood stars. Acceptance would officially come from her agent after a contract was agreed upon and an advance check was sent by the studio, but Leila quickly agreed in principle over the phone. Then she bought the heels.

The roads were congested with late afternoon traffic. Grateful they were on foot, Leila allowed When-Tan to lead her through crowded plazas and past overflowing palm-lined vistas. They crossed from the mainland onto Marsa Dubai and passed a yacht club next to the marina. Bars and restaurants dominated Marsa Dubai’s premium real estate. Two weeks here had felt like heaven. An Emirati by birth, she spent most of her time in Los Angeles after a brief stint in Mumbai cutting her teeth in Indian films. She breathed an inward sigh of relief. Her schedule allowed her to avoid the states until her next film—the big break, she reminded herself—started shooting.

They crossed a busy plaza filled with gawking tourists. Out of nowhere a man brushed against her right shoulder. He wore chinos and a tan jacket. She recognized him instantly.

He squeezed her palm in both of his own, mumbling an apology, before she knew what happened. Dazed, she inhaled to say she had spotted him earlier as When-Tan and Luka, their trailing bodyguard, rushed past. They inserted themselves between her and the fair-skinned man who had materialized from thin air.

And then he was gone.

Leila felt the point of contact on her shoulder where he had collided with her. She rubbed her palm unconsciously. When-Tan led the way back to their hotel, forcing her to match his pace.

Le Royal Meridien loomed out of the tropical Eden like a sanctuary in the desert and everything was right once again.

When-Tan had covertly informed his assistant to make the reservation while Leila was trying on a Givenchy dress equal in cost to many of the sports cars proliferating Dubai. While he did own a Bugatti, he was much more comfortable in the armored Rolls Royce he had purchased for day-to-day usage.

He sent the hotel attendant away and disappeared into the cathedral of a master bathroom to turn on the jacuzzi. By the time he returned Leila had slipped out of her clothes and stood naked, radiant from head to toe. Dark hair covered her breasts in two shimmering sheets.

“Will any of your friends be joining us?” she asked.

When-Tan shook his head.

“Tonight is all about you, my movie starlet. It’s just the two of us.”

She made a delighted sound and crossed the suite. “Maybe there will be more of this,” she shimmied her perfect, nude body, “when I’m finished.” She closed the frosted glass doors to the master bathroom.

When-Tan would be ready when she emerged. Seduction was one of Leila’s many talents. Dinner at Ossiano, Dubai’s finest restaurant, was in two hours. Plenty of time, he mused.

Money was his first love, but he had never been able to resist Leila. His Arabian Princess. Sex icon but capable actress in her own right, this new role had the potential to shoot her to superstardom if things went well. A big if in volatile Hollywood, but one most actors never approached. That only made him want her more.

Half an hour later he still waited. That was not wholly unusual. When an hour passed and no sound issued from the bathroom When-Tan padded across the suite and placed his ear to the door.


No response. A pang of irritation rippled but he waited another ten minutes before trying again.

“Leila, quit messing around.”

He worried about running late for dinner. Ossiano was not the kind of establishment that held a reservation, even for a Chinese billionaire. Dubai crawled with billionaires. One downside of the playgrounds of the elite was that it became harder to stand out.

When-Tan knocked again with more urgency.

“Leila, can you hear me?”

Nothing. Irritation blossomed into full-on anger. Not only that. Worry tugged at his thoughts. About missing dinner, but more so about why Leila Madani, star actress in her prime, was failing to respond.


He took a deep breath and kicked the frosted double doors just below the latch. They sprang inward, splinters hanging where he busted the locking mechanism. He stared into the depths of the marbled room and let out a horrified gasp.

Leila was sprawled in the spacious jacuzzi, her pale visage inches from slipping under the foamy water. Blood stained the corners of her mouth and trickled toward her chin. Her lithe form was limp.

“Leila, my love!”

When-Tan spun at the sound of footsteps.

The attendant is back. He’ll know what to do.

He was on the verge of pulling out his cellphone to dial for an ambulance when he caught sight of the newcomer.

The man responsible for crashing headlong into Leila outside had discarded his tan jacket, but was otherwise identical. In his right hand he held a silenced gun.

When-Tan envisioned the bloated corpse behind him one final time before the intruder raised his weapon and fired.

Let me know what you think in the comments or at Thanks for reading!

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