Written by Douglas Kimball
Colin Campbell is developing the first black pepper plantation in the West Indies. His days are spent clearing jungle, planting and fighting vipers. His nights are spent playing jazz piano at a local bar and enjoying the company of the local ladies. He meets Alan Greene at a jazz festival in Limon. Alan, a Canadian botanist, is marooned in Costa Rica, abandoned when his employer curtailed his mission. (He refused to leave his outpost so he could complete research on the native herbal traditions.) Alan agrees to help Colin, known locally as El Colonel, with his pepper propagation problems in exchange for a small salary, room, board, and help getting to the Canadian Embassy to clear up his visa issues, gain access to funds, and exit Costa Rica.
But Alan does not leave Costa Rica. He and Colin develop an abiding friendship while navigating life as ex-pats in Central America. Colin, a drug interdiction specialist (experience gained while stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Medellin) is recalled into service just as Alan faces deportation because of an altercation with an El Capo strongman over a woman. Captain Campbell was selected by the Commanding General in Afghanistan. Campbell was selected to lead the U.S. effort to take on the resurgent opium problem. To address Alan’s immediate problem in Costa Rica, Colin convinces the service to take Alan along to Afghanistan as well, as a PhD botanist.
However, Alan’s expertise and his Canadian ties present him as a candidate for a different mission. The U.S. State Department wants to surreptitiously place him within the Karsai administration to oversee the massive fiscal fiasco called the Alternative Crop Program. When Alan accepts this mission, both Captain Campbell and Dr. Greene find themselves on quite different paths, and each leads to war weary Afghanistan.
Though the two friends will each reside within the inner “Ring of Steel” within Kabul’s Green Zone, their missions place them on quite different trajectories.
They begin a secret collaboration. Alan, through his local connections, develops intelligence sources that prove predictive in determining the areas of accumulation by the Thai and Chinese opium cartels. He shares this information with Colin and this intelligence, coupled with the military’s already extensive opium data, leads to unprecedented success against the cartels. Colin’s reputation as a drug warrior grows, this time on the opposite side of the globe. And this time he owes much of his success to his secret local intelligence source, his particular friend, Dr. Alan Greene.
As Colin and the U.S. military enjoy their successive anti-opium victories, the cartels and the Taliban ally and rally against them. This unexpected alliance further ratchets up the chaos and violence in war torn Kabul. This comes as political support for the surge strategy erodes back in Washington. Alan’s intelligence sources feel the intense pressure, flee, and seek asylum elsewhere. As Colin’s intelligence flow is about to end, he launches a major interdiction operation. Believing that Alan’s mission may be compromised, the U.S. State Department arranges for his quick removal from Kabul. Colin, already depleted after suffering for months from an ill-defined local ailment called the Kabul crud, is unaware that Alan is safe and fears for his friend. Just as the new Secretary of Defense arrives at Camp Eggers in Kabul to announce the new U.S. exit strategy, as he exits the U.S.M.C. Osprey and waves from the top of the airstairs, Major Campbell, at attention in the officer greeting line below, collapses on the tarmac.
The book ends as the two friends reconnect in the military hospital in Landstul, Germany. Colin is recovering from a virulent form of Kabul-bred Typhoid. Alan arrives to check on his friend. Assured that Colin will fully recover, the two friends plan their return to el Rancho de Piper Nigrum in Costa Rica.