Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Point of Entry by Peter Schechter




(Mildly Recommended)




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The timing for Peter Schechter’s debut novel, Point of Entry, couldn’t be better. Now that we’ve made America safe again by prohibiting the carry on of toothpaste and mouthwash to airliner cabins, we’re ready to hear about other imaginative threats to our security. Schechter has a big one: the plot of Syria to smuggle enriched uranium into the United States through Columbia by using the mules who bring drugs into the country every day. The larger than life characters Schechter creates in the form of U.S. President John Stockman and Colombian President Marta Pradilla and their growing love interest provides a humorous backdrop for the terror plot. Here’s an excerpt, all of the Chapter titled, “After Dinner Bogota, August 6 9:45 p.m.” pp. 28-33:


“Mr. President, if this hemisphere is to prosper we all need to change tracks”’ said President Marta Pradilla to President John Stockman. “In the last twenty years, we declared the war on drugs, the battle against poverty, and the fight against cor­ruption. Yet, today the Americas together make and consume more drugs, have greater poverty, and suffer the same corruption. We can’t keep trying to do the same things and pretend that this time they will work when we know they won’t. Let’s take the opportunity and try something new.”

They were in a small alcove just on the right side of the immense ballroom. Dinner had gone well. Rather than the usual pseudo-French cuisine served at diplomatic gatherings, Marta Pradilla had asked Harry Ricart, Colombia’s super­star chef, to prepare the dinner. It was modern, avant-garde cooking. Soup that began hot and ended cold; foie gras nearly reduced to foam and then lifted victo­riously over sweetbreads and served in a cappuccino cup; balsamic vinegar re­ductions sprinkled over Caribbean spiny lobster; and, finally, playful sweets of 100 percent Colombian cocoa boiled and poured over tropical fruits and then served frozen.

Marta had sought out Harry Ricart’s cooking to make a point about Colom­bia. Her country might be known as suffering a number of dreadful diseases— poverty, violence, drugs, and terrorism—but it was also young, hopeful, creative, and talented. Marta intended the dinner as a political statement. She wanted guests to know that there was a new Colombia. It was subtle gastronomic politics, but the message came through loud and clear.

As guests were milling about with after dinner drinks, she had taken Presi­dent Stockman by the arm and led him slowly to the small alcove, decorated with huge renditions of Fernando Botero’s world renowned murals of oversized women. She would have only a few minutes—it would not be polite or politic to leave the others alone too long.

“We in Colombia understand that the United States has been preoccupied elsewhere. We know that you are fighting in the Middle East for much of what we all hold precious in the West~’ continued President Pradilla. “But, sometimes it seems that America has forgotten that it was founded and built on hope. Every second word now coming from the U.S. government is ‘terrorism.’ You cannot build leadership if you talk only about your fears of the world. You must also talk about your hopes for it.”

Stockman was irritated already. The last thing he wanted was to hear advice from a novice colleague whose total time in leadership was less than eight hours. He decided that the best move was no move, no comment. He knew she would have to get back to the party and that this lecture could not last long.

“At least she’s good to look at,” he thought to himself.

Marta continued, knowing full well that she was getting on his nerves. She had studied this man in depth—his speeches, his television interviews, his opin­ions, and his obsession with loyalty. “The guy does not respond well to dreamy proclamations,” she had told Manuel. “He is all about the business of politics. And, deep down, he does not think women are pragmatic enough to be good at it.”

So, to hook him, she would first launch an ethereal appeal about hope. It was not that she didn’t believe in what she said—she honestly thought that America’s fears were putting at risk the can-do, positive magnetism that was the core of its being. But she knew that he would be repulsed by anything sounding flowery. So, her plan was to make him complacent, confirming that she was the typical woman he expected her to be; then she’d surprise him with highly specific re­quests. She learned long ago that politics was a game of expectation. If you do better than expected, you win.

“Here in Latin America, we still want to hope, Mr. President,” said Marta. “We have been your partner in the fight against drugs and have supported the United States in the war on terrorism. Be our partner back.”

Stockman turned his eyes away to hide his exasperation. What the hell did this rookie woman want? He was about to answer that $7 billion in military and police assistance from the United States in the past three years was damn good partnering. But as he started forming the words, she kept going.

“I want to leave a thought with you: Join me in creating a free-trade agree­ment with our country—totally free, with none of the usual exceptions for agri­culture, textiles, and manufactured goods~’ Marta argued, as she lightly put her hand on his arm.

“Mr. President—John if you will permit me—the issue is no longer about protecting the U.S. from foreign imports. The fact is that if you don’t make a deal with us, you’ll be flooded with Chinese goods. It’s a choice you have to make: Either your neighbors and friends in Latin America can supply bras for your women, farm the soy you eat, and assemble the televisions you watch; or China can do it. But if you choose us, we need a better, newer high-octane trade deal.”

Stockman was annoyed to find that he was actually paying attention. “Sud­denly, she sounds so much more commanding~’ he thought to himself, wonder­ing what it was about her delivery that had him listening from one minute to the next. The thoughts started piling up in his head, when he realized that she was moving on. He forced his mind to reorient its concentration.

“The United States has become a service economy. Old textile states like South Carolina now have high productivity levels in non-textile activities.” Marta was accelerating strongly now. She saw that something changed in his eyes—the blue in his iris was sharp and focused. The irritable, distant glaze was gone. For the first time, she thought she might understand what voters saw in this man:

When he was interested, he actually looked like he cared.

“The United States can afford—and benefit from—a serious trade agree­ment with a country like mine’ she continued. “Don’t answer me now, but I want you to consider a fully free trade zone with agriculture, textiles, and manufac­tured goods moving across borders without taxes or duties. This is more than a free-trade deal. It will be a hemispheric development pact. And we should nego­tiate, agree, and sign it in less than six months.

“This is what will give hope to Colombians and get them to once again be­lieve in the United States.” As she finished, her cashmere pashmina fell slightly, re­vealing over the right shoulder the deep sartorial cut in her dress.

Stockman could not keep his eyes off that shoulder. She was gorgeous and damned smart. She had turned an irritating lecture on hope into a cogent argu­ment about prosperity and poverty alleviation. She even ended with a clear pol­icy recommendation. Against his better judgment, Stockman admitted to himself that he was impressed.

It was then that he noticed that she had still not taken her hand from around his arm. He felt a passing warm tingle. After all, the world was not exactly full of gorgeous presidents.

“President Pradilla,” Stockman began, “America needs to do what it is doing in the Middle East because we believe the Western world and secular democracy are in danger. I sure hope you realize that. I’ll take your suggestion home with me because I know that trade is the only real door to economic growth and social peace in our hemisphere—but don’t get your hopes up. Textiles and agriculture are still important political players in my country, and you don’t just decide to hit them with a lightning agreement that may cause a lot of damage.

“You too will learn a lot in the coming months about the constraints to gov­erning,” Stockman added. He could not resist the jab.

The American president noticed that Pradilla just ignored the broadside. She didn’t pull back an inch. Jesus, she still hasn’t let go of my arm, thought Stock-man. He generally disliked being touched, and her soft grip made him distinctly uncomfortable.

Pradilla, on the other hand, was surprised at how easy it was to capture his attention. Behind his impatience and exasperation with more emotional expres­sions, it hadn’t been hard to find a comfortable road of dialogue that kept him focused. Marta wondered if there was something about Stockman beyond the façade of pragmatic conservative he so badly wanted to project. In these few min­utes together, she had seen a glimmer of a man who just might be willing to move beyond the shackles of cautious traditionalism.

Marta decided to change the subject. She had pushed the free-trade issue far enough. But what would happen next might well lose her whatever points she might have accumulated with Stockman thus far.

“There is somebody I want you to meet,” said Marta. Rather than walking back into the main ballroom area, she led Stockman through a small door. It led to a badly lit, tiny office that had an elegant desk, a telephone, and a computer. A man sat in the large leather office chair with his back toward them. The figure in the chair was reading Gatopardo, the new Vanity Fair—like magazine that had taken Latin America by storm with its bold photos and incisive articles. His longish gray beard could easily be made out in the backlight.

Stockman instantaneously recognized Fidel Castro and recoiled. He tried to leave, but Pradilla’s womanly touch on his arm had turned to iron. She held the presidential elbow tightly.

“I won’t forgive you for this,” he muttered to her. But he was stuck. To get out, he would have to physically bowl over the good-looking new president of Colombia.

“John, I want you to meet President Castro. I don’t think you two have ever talked,” said Marta Pradilla. If she had heard Stockman’s threat, she didn’t show it.

“I can’t imagine that you will do much talking now either,” President Pradilla said with a wry smile. Stockman noticed that her tone had changed—she sud­denly was all business. She turned toward Castro.

“President Stockman and I were talking now about the need to re-create hope through new policies that change the lives of future generations. We agreed that sometimes bold political strokes can catalyze change.” President Pradilla was talking quickly. “Few things are in greater need of courage than Cuba itself and the Cuba embargo. Forty years have passed and nothing has changed. It’s high time that they did, and the U.S. can start the change.”

Stockman started to protest, but she held up her hand and stopped him cold. “It’s time to end the Cuba embargo, Mr. President,” Pradilla said. “New times mean new policies and new needs. You know this, Mr. President, because you also have a new need.”

She wasn’t finished, and the two old enemies knew it. Castro listened. Stockman was struck silent by her audacity.

The Colombian president flicked away a bothersome strand of hair that had fallen over her deep green eyes. “Here is how I see it, John,” continued Pradilla. “There are four Latin American countries on the UN Security Council, and they will stay there for another eight months. Cuba is one of those countries. I am aware that the United States has a plan to soon propose a resolution to the Coun­cil that presents Syria with an economic, military, and political ultimatum de­signed to force it to stop harboring anti-Western and anti-American terrorists. I will personally guarantee you Latin America’s votes—including Cuba’s—in favor of that resolution,” Pradilla dictated.

Castro rocketed to his feet, stumbling because the swivel chair had turned too fast. “Marta, you have no right to commit my country to anything, much less supporting a U.S. military expedition’ he hollered.

Pradilla did to Castro exactly what she had done minutes earlier to Stock-man: She ignored him. Then, she confessed the clincher.

“It’s an easy guarantee, John, if the United States presents its Syrian proposal along with a parallel resolution spelling out its intent to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Do this and the world will applaud your new leadership. Most important of all, Mr. President, they will follow,” ended Marta.

That was it. There was nothing more to say. The room was completely silent.

Now came the rehearsed part. She knew that these two old foxes would not talk to one another, so she needed to end the meeting by giving them something to do. So Marta let her small shoulder-slung leather purse drop casually onto the floor. It landed with a thump that thundered in the room’s silence. And the two men did what any polite gentleman would do: The aging president of Cuba and the gruff president of the United States both leaned over to pick it up for her.

Castro got there first.

Marta smiled and took the bag. She marveled at the truism: Give an angry boy something to do for a pretty girl and he’ll temporarily forget his resentment.

“Thank you both. I think we should return’ she said, with a big smile. “It’s massively impolite to be away so long. And, about this encounter: We may not be able to avoid others knowing it occurred. But nobody needs to know what was discussed. I won’t tell if you promise not to.”

She opened the door and watched the guests look agape as they witnessed the president of the United States and the president of Cuba, two of the world’s oldest enemies, reentering the palace’s ballroom in the company of the newly inaugurated president of Colombia.


If you don’t fine this chapter at all implausible, you’ll really like the rest of Point of Entry. For most readers, this novel will be viewed as absurdly implausible and an entertaining distraction from real terror, at about the same level of interest as Snakes on Planes.


Steve Hopkins, August 25, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the September 2006 issue of Executive Times


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