Alex Green, SAS soldier. A third fast paced action thriller in the Alex series.
“If we don’t stop slaughtering our animals right now, there’ll simply be no wild rhinos left on our planet in a couple of years’ time.”
You could have heard a pin drop, the audience hushed, the Kruger Park Ranger totally captivating them with his presentation. “This is not a ‘maybe’, it’s a fact. We must act. It has to stop now.”
The lecture over, Alex knew that he had to get involved, to lend his weight to the cause. It wasn’t just the poachers that were the problem, it was the whole supply chain behind them that took the rhino horn to the market, getting it out of Africa and onwards to Asia. And one country seemed to be at the heart of most of the problems. Alex could handle the military side of the issue, but to intervene at a global level would be something far beyond his skillset.
“But I may know somebody who can help there,” he told himself thoughtfully.
A plan began forming in his mind, a plan that could change the world’s political landscape, a scheme that could save the rhino from extinction.
Targeted Age Group:: 16+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I started a series with a SAS hero by the name of Alex Green. This is the third book in the series.
As we all know, the rhino will face extinction if they continue to be slaughtered for their horns. Horns = Hair. Does this make sense?
Though the book is a fictional adventure, the problem is real.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I needed a variety of characters for the book, including SAS men from the previous two books. In this book I introduce a lot of local South Africans – mainly Zulus – plus a few North Koreans as the 'bad guys'.
Book also introduces a new lady spy working for the UK's MI6.
Chapter 1: To Catch A Beast
The night was chilly after the harsh heat of the day, dew making the grass damp underfoot, the tiny beads of moisture making the branches of trees and bushes glisten in the little moonlight that was available.
The men looked like a mufti army, an assortment of clothing that could in no way be termed as uniform. Some wore long combat-style pants, large pockets bulging on their thighs, others shorts and long socks, some jeans. A mix of military looking boots, walking boots, training shoes, even plastic Crocs. Most had some type of bush shirt, some in faux camouflage design, others similar to the garb worn by game rangers in the safari parks, others just dark coloured T-shirts. Some wore floppy hats, some none.
All looked a little nervous, tense, staring around them for any signs of life, human or otherwise. Many carried the infamous Kalashnikov AK-47, some the AKM, others just basic hunting rifles, whilst some had hand-me-downs from fathers and grandfathers. A real mixed bag of firepower.
All carried small backpacks, day-sacks, all empty but one. If the night was a success, all would return full.
The undergrowth was sparse, the middle of summer, much of the grass and bush starved of rain for over a month. In daylight it would have been a pale straw colour, but by night it was almost white, only the silver glints of moisture changing this, reflecting the quarter moon and stars. Ahead lay more bush, broken and bare branches of thorny bushes, small trees that had been ravished by the animals, evidence that the elephants had been through this area within the last week or so.
Somewhere in the distance a lion roared, vocalising, signing to all that this was his territory. The leader of the group held up one hand, stopping the column, quickly assessing the threat. It was a short stop, then they were back underway, moving deeper into the oldest game park in South Africa.
The eight black men knew the area pretty well, knew the territory that their prey frequented, hoped that they would find their target. They’d lived there all of their lives. They also knew that the animals were much better trackers than the best of them, that they could search all night and not find anything, that the target could be missed even if it was only twenty metres away from them. This might seem impossible to understand for a tourist, but not for a Zulu, a man raised on the land. In this countryside, even a seven tonne elephant could hide it’s bulk in a copse of trees, a black mamba in a hollow in the ground, a rhino behind a bush. They could appear or disappear in the blink of an eye.
Each of those animals could also kill any one of them in an instant, the snake with a single deadly bite, the larger mammals with a charge. Then there were boomslangs hiding in the trees, lions, leopards, water buffalo, hippo. It was a wonder any of them survived their frequent sorties into the bush, but they did.
Animals were generally reserved and timid, moved away from the threat posed by man. Man was the one encroaching on their habitat, not vice versa.
They continued forwards, cautiously, silently searching out their target.
They had been walking for over two hours now, covered around five miles since the fence line, a minor obstacle for the group. Despite the chill in the night air, all were quite warm now, sweat trickling down the small of backs, spreading dark stains under the arms of shirts, dark curls glistening where they weren’t hidden by a bush hat.
The leader had halted their progress several times along the route, each time a false alarm. Rocks in the dark can morph into the shapes of people, lions, hippo, even elephants, and each one needed to be confirmed before they moved on. It wasted valuable minutes, but it was better than getting it wrong.
The Rangers would also be out there somewhere, searching for them. They would have their own weapons, possibly also infrared viewing equipment.
If they had taken the time to look into the night sky they would have spotted meteor showers racing towards the horizons, the bush so empty of the false light of the city that the sky positively glowed.
The headman stopped them again, called them all in. Few words were spoken, but they were close to where they wanted to be, close to where they knew their target could be. They broke from their single-file formation, spread out in a wide line, about five metres between each of them, better to cover the area. It gave them a line almost fifty metres across.
Everyone in their place, the leader pointed an index finger skywards, checked the direction of the breeze, then swept his arm in a forwards direction. The line noted this and moved off, eyes forward.
They’d been advancing slowly for a good forty minutes now, opening and closing the line to negotiate obstructions, bushes, trees, waterholes. At each waterway they’d halted altogether, even more cautious than during their usual progress – these were the sort of places where animals were drawn to, especially the type of animals that they were hoping to find.
Hollows half-filled with water, the resource running low in the drought, mud carved-up by a thousand feet that visited the spot to try and survive. This was where they were likely to get lucky.
Someone on the far right of the line signalled a stop, all of them dropping to one knee, straining to see what had caused the alarm. The man who’d called it gently eased forward, confirming that the wind was in his face, that any scent from him was being blown away to his rear. It meant that anything out there wouldn’t know he was present, not from his smell anyway.
About thirty or forty metres to his front he could make out a large shape, like a massive grey boulder surrounded by the pale grass, just over knee-length at this spot. He had to be certain, but he believed that the boulder had moved, just a little, a head perhaps raised from feeding. He’d seen the suspected motion in his peripheral vision, something out on the very edge of his viewing range. He knew that it could be nothing, needed to verify his suspicions, all without giving away his position.
He edged forward, eyes locked on the shape ahead of him but also alert for any other shapes around it. If there was one, there could be two or more. And it only took one to kill you.
Careful with his footfalls, trying desperately not to stand on any dried out branches, loose stones and rocks, anything that would make a sound, he moved to within twenty metres of the lump. If it was what he thought it was, it wouldn’t see him. The animal’s eyesight was next to useless. His fear was the beast’s hearing; their ears were like radar dishes, swivelling towards any sound, focussing on the source, the cone-shaped skin of the ear amplifying the silence.
He held his ground, stooping to the hard earth and finding a pebble. He tossed the stone to the left of the greyish rock, watching carefully.
This time there was no mistake and he definitely saw the head move, the conical ears twitching around towards where the stone had landed. Ahead of him was a fairly large rhinoceros if he wasn’t mistaken, at least three tonnes in weight.
Adrenalin levels already high, they zoomed upwards now and he knew that he needed to take control of himself before alerting the rest of the team. So far he was certain that the beast hadn’t detected him, wasn’t aware of the group’s presence. He carried an AK-47, hardly the best weapon for hunting a semi-armoured animal, but it would do the job in an emergency.
He watched ahead, the animal moving slightly towards where the stone had landed, inquisitive. He watched the movement of the beast’s outline, trying to decide if it was a black or white rhino, attempting to see if it was horned or not. The white was fairly passive but still deadly if riled. The black was simply dangerous; flighty, unpredictable, but usually smaller.
He waved one arm in a circle above his head, letting the rest of the squad know that he had a target, that their night would not be a wasted one. Everyone was still downwind of the beast, the darkness and the rhino’s poor eyesight effectively masking them from it. The line of men closed together, now having a goal, the leader moving silently towards where the point man watched the prey. They all knew the importance of silence.
The headman was almost in position with the scout, moving as silently as possible, also able to see the outline of the monster now. He guessed that it was about three metres in length and over a metre tall, so possibly weighing in at a two-and-a-half to three tonnes, maybe more if it was a young white rhino as he suspected it to be. Blacks were rare, listed on the world’s critically endangered species list, less than two thousand left on the whole of the planet, but that wasn’t something that the man actually cared about.
His only concern was the length and weight of the horn that he could just about make out sticking out of the animal’s head. The present value on the black market for what was basically made of fingernail and hair, was around sixty-thousand US dollars per kilo. If he was correct, he was looking right now at around two kilos of live horn.
He knew he would never get the full value of the horn himself and would only come away with a fraction of its worth, but it would still make a wonderful payday for him and his crew. The people at the end of the distribution network – probably somewhere in China, Vietnam or some other Far Eastern country – would be the ones making those ridiculous sums of money, but without their networks to get the merchandise to the market, the thing was worth nothing. It wasn’t something that Zulu culture coveted. For them, the animal itself was more important, but needs must. An opportunity was just that, and he wasn’t one to miss out on it.
Almost at his lead man now, he placed another foot forward, still trying to get a clear picture of the beast, to ascertain the size of the prize.
…and stood directly on to a dried out branch.
In the quiet of the night, the sound was similar to the crack of a whip, splitting wide open the fragile silence of the bush. For a couple of seconds it was as if time stood still, everything paused, movement all in slow-motion, the poachers unsure whether to run or freeze. But these moments of hesitancy couldn’t last long, nature forcing things to come swiftly back up to full speed.
The ears of the rhinoceros pointed directly at the place the noise had initiated from, their pointed tips like direction arrows showing the way to the transgressor. It spat out a noisy breath of air, almost a grunt, then put its head down, pawed the earth with one front foot.
Then it charged directly towards the threat.
The point man was the closest to the beast, now looking in the direction of his boss, towards the noise from the guilty party. He didn’t see the beast start it’s charge, heard it before he saw it, but by then it was already too late.
The leader of the poaching party also had very little time, began moving his gun into his shoulder, raising the barrel towards the stampeding lump of armoured flesh. He was also too late.
The rhino was taking its aim on sound alone, his eyes still not aware of the cause of the sound, the scent from the target still blown away from his nostrils. That meant he missed a direct impact with the first man but still caught him a solid glancing collision at about twenty-miles-an-hour, enough to throw the man off to its right, the poacher flying through the air for almost ten metres, smashing into a nearby bush.
The boss wasn’t so lucky – or as some would say, perhaps he was – and the black rhino hit him at full speed, it’s stooped head going straight into his ribcage. He was dead before his body hit the African soil, a bloody hole in his stomach where the precious horn made first contact.
The rhino continued running, but now some of the others in the party had regained their wits, at last starting to react to the situation. Bullets flew towards the rampaging beast, some from automatic weapons, over fifty rounds spraying wildly through the air in the next five seconds.
The rhino didn’t stop, charging on. It looked as if they’d all missed, that the whole expedition had been a total failure, all payment and no returns.
Suddenly the animal pulled to a stop, made a horrible sound, something between a roar and scream, as if the devil himself had been released from inside of its mouth. It stood over fifty yards away from the remainder of the hunting party, pawed the ground, the firing now stopped. Clouds of steam shrouded it’s head as it exhaled loudly, sounding and looking a little like an old steam engine, almost as strong as one.
Then it’s legs failed to work anymore, collapsing sideways on to the ground, impacting with a dull thump.
The men advanced on it, their two colleagues temporarily forgotten, their victory over the tremendous animal all that mattered.
It lay there, still gasping for air, trying to regain its footing, failing, drooling.
As they reached it, a final long breath escaped it’s hooked jaw, blood running down the side of its mouth. The beast was dead.
Two of the remaining six men set about removing the horn, a small electric chainsaw from the one full pack used for the job. It was crude, an ugly way to pay respect to such a magnificent beast. It was also the fastest way to do it and time was of the essence. They needed to be out of the park before first light, be away from this spot even sooner. Rangers could be bearing down on them even now, and in the morning they would have the support of aircraft, helicopters, maybe small drones.
The other four men headed back to where their less lucky colleagues had fallen.
Their leader was long dead, a hole just below the sternum that had ripped to the right as the animal had continued its charge forward, a part of his small intestine lying in the soil, torches showing the mass of blood pooled in the red dust.
The other man was still alive, somehow, no open wounds but his ribcage distorted on one side, as though he was a car that had a dent in its bodywork. His breathing was laboured, occasionally he coughed, the pain of doing so obviously great, blood coming up with the air.
They made-up an improvised stretcher from rifles and branches, shared the load and began the long trek out of the park. They were cold now, too long hanging around. That wouldn’t last long though; soon they’d be hot and sweaty all over again, the long hours of walking and the additional work of carrying a man between them would see to that.
They reached the fence line at around four o’clock, the sun just starting to show on the eastern horizon, a sliver of yellow. They paused in the bushes there, looking for pursuit, watching the skies. They drank water, ate some dried impala meat.
One of them checked the man on the stretcher, ready to give him a sip of the water.
He noticed the lack of movement from the man’s chest, saw the man’s eyes wide open and staring towards nowhere. “He’s dead,” he informed the others simply.
They left him under some trees, carried on walking on their way, knowing that next time it could be one of them.
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