Avenge the dead Paras...
A troop of paras stumble on an elephant's butchered corpse. A sniper observes a glamorous Royal couple on their wedding day. A charismatic ultra-left politician sees his chance to strut on the world stage. What happens next sends ex-SAS member Gabriel Wolfe deep into the heart of a global web of intrigue, ivory poaching and political corruption.
'We spilled blood into this soil'
Julius Witaarde is the passionate young leader of a white separatist party in South Africa. He dreams of establishing a whites-only homeland in the north of the country. But dreams like his don't come cheap. And conventional sources of finance are closed to him.
Together with two unlikely business partners, one at the highest level of government in South Africa, he moves into ivory smuggling.
In the forests of Botswana a small group of British paras are working with local game wardens to defeat poachers. Halfway round the world, the Royal Family's youngest princess is getting married in Windsor. As church bells ring out, so do shots.
The domestic security agencies scramble to find the killer. Gabriel and Eli deploy to Botswana to investigate the disappearance of the paras, who never returned to base.
A trail of blood, and tears
Gabriel and Eli find themselves caught in a complex and bloody maze of lies, evasions, criminal deals and power-hungry politicians who believe destiny counts for more than the truth.
Recently reunited with long-lost sister, Wei Mei, Gabriel travels to Laos, the Gulf States and on to Laos and Hong Kong before he discovers the terrifying truth about the people he's investigating.
'You're playing a dangerous game, Mr Wolfe'
Face to face with the man he knows he has to take down, Gabriel finds his options narrowing. But what is the right decision? For him, as well as his country?
BUY YOUR COPY OF IVORY NATION NOW.
Release date: March 27, 2020
Publisher: Tyton Press
Print pages: 408
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KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK, BOTSWANA
The elephant’s butchered carcass stank. Corporal Steve ‘Stevo’ Wallingham fought the urge to empty his guts onto the African soil beneath his boots.
Shouldering his SA80 rifle, he approached the huge, tusk-less head. The flies swirled in a thick, angry cloud as he drew near. He looked down into the glazed-over eye, with its long, curling eyelashes. But not for long.
What screamed at him from the ravaged face was the ugly, bloody, maggot-filled crater that had until a few hours previously housed the dead animal’s right tusk.
From his briefing with the head of the Botswana Defence Force’s Anti-Poaching Unit, Stevo knew the poachers routinely used petrol-powered chainsaws, when they could get the fuel. If not, they’d hack away with machetes and rip-saws until the precious ivory came free. This crew had obviously had the petrol. Horrific wounds had been gouged into the flesh above, below and behind the socket.
A plaintive wail had him whirling round, grabbing for his rifle. Behind him, Stewie and Rob were crouching, rifles at their shoulders. Moses, Eustace and Virtue were flat on their bellies, their own, more antiquated firearms – Russian-made AK-47 assault rifles – pointing into the bush.
The sound repeated, and he was surprised to see first Moses, then the other two APU men grin, then clamber to their feet. The two other Paras stayed ready on one knee, scanning the foliage just a dozen or so feet in front of them.
Crashes. A swish of leaves being pushed aside. The crackle of snapping wood, bone-dry despite the recent rain shower. Then Stevo smiled too.
A baby elephant emerged from between two acacias, whimpering breathily. Clearly the offspring of the dead bull, it eyed the humans nervously, before turning to the dead elephant. It took a few hesitant steps and bent its head to nuzzle its father’s forehead. It curled its trunk around its father’s and lifted the great, grey mass, before letting it flop to the ground. Again it emitted the strangely human-sounding moan, clearly a pain-filled cry of grief.
Stevo turned to Moses.
‘What do we do with it? Is the mother going to come back?’
Moses shrugged his wide shoulders.
‘I honestly do not know. If she is not with him now, then maybe the poachers have already killed her.’
‘What about the rest of the herd?’ Stewie asked.
Rob had wandered to the edge of the brush. He came back with a long, whippy branch covered at its far end with succulent, bright-green leaves. He waved it to catch the little elephant’s attention
‘Hey, Dumbo! You hungry, lad? Hey? You want some scran?’
The calf turned at the sound of the Yorkshireman’s crooning questions. Its gaze swivelled to the branch, but it stayed rooted to the spot. Rob got down on one knee and held out the branch.
‘Come on, lad. Tha’ must be feelin’ peckish?’
He flicked it to make the leaves rustle. Slowly, taking tiny steps and breathing noisily, the calf approached him. The other five men remained still. With a yard to go, the calf stretched out its trunk and with the delicacy of a jeweller handling a precious gem, curled the tip around the end of the branch. Rob held firm as the calf stripped a big bunch of leaves from the thin twigs.
A crash from the edge of the clearing stopped the little beast’s trunk halfway to its mouth. It turned its head at the noise, lifted its trunk and bleated out a cry. The answering roar was deafening by comparison.
Before Stevo got his rifle to his shoulder, an adult elephant, almost as big as the dead bull, burst into the clearing, trunk raised.
He had time to register the tusks, gleaming white in the noonday sun and to wonder whether this was the calf’s mother. But that was all. Before his horrified gaze, the elephant barrelled into Rob, knocking him onto his back.
The scream issuing from Rob was cut off as her massive front feet smashed down onto his ribs. The awful crunch as the slender bones snapped like dry twigs was clearly audible to Stevo. Yet his finger never got beyond first pressure on the trigger. Rob was dead, foamy scarlet blood bubbling from his mouth, his upper torso mashed to pulp under the raging matriarch’s feet.
The APU men had all aimed at the elephant. Moses loosed off a burst above her head. Trumpeting, she whirled around and took a couple of stiff-legged steps towards the remaining men.
Her ears were held out straight from her head and her trunk waved menacingly from side to side as if she were wielding a sabre.
‘Hold your fire!’ Stevo yelled.
He could feel his heart racing as he confronted the beast towering over them all. He didn’t want to lose another man, but he didn’t want to have to explain how his patrol had shot and killed a female elephant when their mission was to protect them.
Rob was dead. They’d mourn him properly later. But for now he wanted to extract without another casualty, human or animal.
The APU men obeyed unquestioningly, though all three kept their AKs pointed at the elephant. She was puffing out great breaths, the whites of her oddly human eyes showing as she swept her gaze along the tight row of humans.
Then her baby, who’d been cowering behind her, emitted another of its plaintive cries and tottered over to the dead paratrooper.
Stevo watched as the little creature bent its head and stroked the dead man’s cheek with the tip of its trunk. Mewling, it snuffed out a breath that flipped Rob’s hair up. It walked a complete circuit of the body, trailing its trunk over an outstretched hand, the boots and finally the face again, then retreated to the shade of its mother’s belly.
Hardly daring to breathe, Stevo watched as the mother bent her head and reached between her fore legs with her trunk to caress the baby’s head. Then she lifted her head, glared at him, and turned away.
Releasing a pent-up breath, Stevo watched as mother and baby walked away from them, pushing out of the clearing through grass seven feet tall.
‘That was close!’ Stewie whispered in his strong northeast accent. ‘Look at poor Rob, man. You need to call it in.’
While Stewie, Moses and Eustace covered the body and began assembling a rudimentary travois out of branches to drag it back to their Land Rover, Stevo ran a few quick calculations.
They’d covered about three miles on foot, mostly through forest. It had taken about an hour. That was when all were alive and only carrying daysacks and rifles. Now, with a thirteen-stone corpse to drag, they’d be looking at double that, at least.
Once back at their FOB, they could radio ahead to let the Anti-Poaching Unit HQ know they were down a man and would need him flying back to the UK. Then it would be the sad, silent, four-hour drive back to Gaborone.
He sighed. Poor Rob. Killed by the mother of the baby elephant he was feeding. She wasn’t to know he was only trying to keep the poor little thing alive. He’d survived Afghanistan, counter-terror missions across half the world, even the regimental Christmas talent show, when he’d done a passable imitation of Elvis Presley singing ‘Love Me Tender’. You loved to sing, Rob mate. But at least he’d met his end doing good. Not blown to shit by some medieval madman with an IED and a bloodstained copy of the Koran.
Stevie looked up.
They’d lashed two long poles together with lianas into a long, narrow V and tied shorter sticks on top of them, crosswise. Together, Eustace, Moses and Virtue lifted their fallen comrade’s broken body and gently lowered it onto the travois.
Stewie looked over at him. The gaze spoke of shared missions, other bodies waiting to be CASEVACed from the battlefield, a depthless camaraderie among fighting men that would endure long after Rob’s flesh had melted from his bones.
Stevie nodded back.
‘Let’s go,’ he said. ‘Stewie, you and Moses take the first half-mile, then me and Virtue’ll take over.’
‘What about me?’ Eustace asked, pushing his camouflage cap back on his head.
‘I want you to scout ahead. I don’t want to meet any more elephants.’
Eustace nodded, his normally smiling mouth now set in a grim line. Holding his AK across his body, he jogged ahead and disappeared from the clearing.
Stevo turned to the others.
‘Let’s get him home, boys,’ he said.
Machetes slashing at thick foliage, they made slow progress. Stevo checked his watch: 1415 hours and they’d barely covered the first mile.
Of Eustace, there was no sight. But he was the most experienced tracker of the three Botswanans. He’d be doing his job; reconnoitring the ground ahead and warning of potential threats.
Stevo had just lifted his side of the travois, swatting away the flies that had formed a dark, buzzing column above Rob’s body, when a rifle shot rang out.
He and Virtue dropped to their knees, laying the travois flat and readying their rifles. Stewie and Moses were also crouching, rifles aimed into the enclosing brush.
‘That did not sound like an AK,’ Virtue said.
He was right. The report had a higher-pitched sound to it, the crack tighter somehow. They’d all heard enough gunfire, in combat or APU-versus-poacher encounters, to know the sound of one long gun from another.
Stevo ran a lightning-fast combat appreciation.
One man unaccounted for. Probably dead.
Enemy numbers unknown.
Terrain inhospitable. Visibility twenty yards max.
Our forces, four.
Split up into pairs and maintain a line.
Leave Rob. Sorry, mate.
He clicked his fingers to get the others’ attention.
An index finger pointed at Stewie and Moses, then left. They nodded and crouch-walked away from him. A second signal, to his own chest then Virtue’s, then right. Virtue nodded. Together they headed for a path leading away from the travois and directly opposite the route Stewie and Moses had taken.
He heard voices. They were speaking English, but in a variety of accents ranging from French-inflected East African to the unmistakable guttural sound of an Afrikaaner.
‘Do we go in, boss?’ one asked.
‘Nah, man. Too slow. Clear them out.’
The first speaker laughed.
‘Sure thing, boss. I flush them right out.’
Stevo heard a loud metallic scrape. Recognised it. A charging lever. On something big. Something heavy. Something—
The machine gunner opened fire. Stewie’s head burst open like a ripe melon falling from a tree. Virtue’s scream was cut off mid-stream as he was cut in half, spraying blood and tissue all over Stevo’s left side.
The roar of the shooting obliterated all other sound. Stevo started firing instinctively, emptying his magazine as he swept the SA-80’s barrel right to left into the brush.
Moses was firing into the trees, their broad-leaved foliage now shredded by the incoming fire to reveal a dark-skinned man standing in the back of a pickup operating a belt-fed machine gun. Moses’ face exploded outwards as a burst caught him, and his lifeless body toppled backwards, still firing the AK.
Scrabbling for a spare magazine, Stevo heard crashing. He looked up. Striding towards him was a white man in khaki shorts and a belted jacket, his eyes shadowed under a wide-brimmed hat. He held a sand-coloured assault rifle at his hip, the muzzle pointed at Stevo’s chest.
‘Drop it!’ he shouted.
Stevo might have gone for a shot if the SA-80 was loaded, but without a mag, it was useless. He dropped it. Raised his hands in surrender.
‘I’m a British paratrooper, mate,’ he said, standing slowly. ‘You’ve killed two, which is bad enough. But they’ll pay a ransom for me.’
The man in khaki frowned. Stevo could see him making the calculation. Money always won with these people. It’s why they did it. Selling ivory, collecting ransom cash from the British government, it was all the same to them. He’d have to endure a few days’ captivity, maybe even a few weeks. Then he’d be home free and could return with more men to wipe these scum—
‘Nah, man. I don’t think so.’
The burst took Stevo in his mid-section. His last sight, as he folded forwards over his ruined belly, was of his guts spilling onto his boots.
* * *
Five hundred yards to the northwest, Eustace rolled onto his back. Above him, high in a sky the cobalt blue of Mama Botswana’s eyes, three vultures circled. He raised a shaky hand to his right cheek. He winced as his fingertips encountered gashed skin and the mushy feeling of torn flesh and congealing blood.
The shot had clipped his cheekbone and he’d spun into the scrub, landing unconscious in a pile of elephant dung. He’d come to as the poachers, for he was sure that was who had attacked him, had driven off, laughing.
‘He’s dead!’ a white man had shouted. ‘Leave it.’
So they’d searched for his body and missed it. Good. Thank you, Heavenly Father for saving me.
Gingerly, he climbed to his feet, reeling as the blood temporarily left his brain. The Land Rover. He needed to reach it. He offered another prayer, this time of supplication rather than thanksgiving.
Father, help me reach the Land Rover. Let the poachers not have commandeered it or smashed the radio. Amen.
He did not bother with a prayer of intercession. He knew that the others were all dead. But if he could survive this, he could bring back help for their bodies and souls.
It was 5.45 p.m. by the time he reached the Land Rover. Not much light left. He clambered aboard and checked the radio. To his intense relief, it fired up as soon as he flicked the power switch.
Within a few seconds he was speaking to APU Control in Gaborone. With GPS coordinates relayed, and a promise of help secured, he climbed out of the cab and crawled under the chassis. Stevo had the ignition keys, so it was only good as shelter.
In the comfortably furnished drawing room of a seventeenth-century cottage deep in the Buckinghamshire countryside, two men and two women sat watching the latest royal wedding.
Gabriel Wolfe and his girlfriend Eli Schochat occupied a well-worn buttoned leather Chesterfield sofa. On a second, their boss at The Department, Don Webster, sat beside Christine, his wife of forty-five years.
A bottle of Pol Roger sat in a battered aluminium ice bucket beaded with condensation up to the halfway mark.
Don had just refilled everyone’s glasses. He pointed at the screen.
‘You see that, Old Sport?’ he said to Gabriel. ‘Sign of the times. Whatever anyone says about this country and its institutions, it’s something to be proud of.’
‘Because Carty’s black?’
‘Exactly. Those of a Republican persuasion love to carp on that the monarchy’s out of touch, unrepresentative. But what do they have to offer in its stead?’
Christine put her glass down on the coffee table.
‘Don’s about to deliver his “President Tammerlane” speech again.’
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