Paddington Green Police Station, Euston, London – 2014
Handcuffs weren’t supposed to be comfortable, but the idiot across from him had overdone it this time.
Joe Dixon looked at the silver rings of metal then leant forward and clunked them down on the table. The interrogation room smelt of sweat and bad breath. A dishevelled looking detective inspector, with greasy black hair, looked at his watch and then rubbed his chin. DI Cook sat back and folded his arms across his coffee-stained denim shirt. A narrow face with a pointed chin and beady eyes scanned Joe’s face.
‘Dixon,’ he said. ‘I told you I’d get you. Dirty cops like you always get caught.’
‘Alleged. You didn’t say allegedly, Cook. You know that legal upstairs would hate to hear you accusing me of anything. I haven’t been charged yet, now have I?’ Joe said, shifting his feet under the table. The floor was all sticky. ‘Don’t go getting ahead of yourself. This will get thrown out of court if it even gets there.’
‘We have the evidence, so the verdict will come back in our favour. The judge will nail you for what you’ve done. And if he doesn’t, I’ll be waiting outside to knock the living crap out of you.’
Joe looked down at his hands, his little finger on his left hand bent inwards on the finger next to it. A previous interrogation that had gone bad for him. ‘Take these off me, Cook, then do your damnedest.’
DI Cook’s eyes narrowed, and he shifted forward in his seat. ‘You can keep bleating on about your innocence, but you’re going down. All those gangbangers you sent to rot in jail will be rubbing their hands together.’
The door to the interview room screeched open, and Joe watched a tall man dressed in a blue suit walk in. Slim and well groomed. A pampered man and not someone who’d been out in the field. A lawyer maybe. Joe hated them. He looked back at his hands and rubbed his left little finger. It was throbbing again.
‘DC Cook? Would you mind stepping out for a few minutes?’ the man said.
‘And you are?’
‘None of your concern, DI. Your superior wants to talk to you outside,’ the man said. ‘You wouldn’t want to keep her waiting, would you?’
DC Cook glared at the man as he stood up from his chair.
‘Run along, Cookie,’ Joe said, forcing a smile. He looked up at the tall man. ‘Take a seat. This muppet was leaving.’
DC Cook leant on the table, his coffee breath clouding around Joe. ‘I’ll be right outside.’
‘Get out there, and start bleeding without me. I’ll be out to finish the job shortly,’ Joe replied and watched the man leave.
The man in the suit took a seat, straightening his jacket for a few seconds. ‘So you’re as rough and uncouth as they say, Mr Dixon.’
‘That’s DI Dixon to you,’ he said, leaning back in the metal chair. ‘Am I supposed to know who you are?’
‘My name is Mike Wells, I’m the head of Criminal Investigation with Interpol. Do you recognise that position?’
‘I’m a cop. Of course, I know.’
‘You were a policeman, Joe, and as things stand, you won’t be a free man for much longer,’ Mike said and opened a thick folder on the desk. ‘Twice decorated. Countless successful cases and then it all went down the crapper.’
Joe rubbed his hands again, staring at the man. He ground his teeth at the arrogant suit in front of him. ‘Circumstances change, Mike. Life kicked me around a bit. I kicked back.’
‘I can see that. Dealing drugs, skimming money off deals, gang-related violence, striking a superior officer… twice, soliciting a prostitute, and contempt of court. Wow, not many crimes left for you to commit.’
‘I would’ve added murder to that if you hadn’t walked in and saved his arse,’ Joe said, looking at the door.
‘How ambitious of you,’ Mike said, flipping over another page. He frowned, before closing the folder. ‘Many a good man has crossed the line doing undercover work, Joe. We understand how it can consume you.’
‘Don’t patronise me. What the hell do you know about fieldwork?’
‘We’re not here to discuss my CV,’ he said and flipped open a second beige folder. ‘Keith Anderson added a few good testimonials to your file before you joined the gangs.’
‘He was a great man.’
‘I know he was. I served with him in the field for ten years.’
Joe rubbed his little finger. Memories of his mentor flooded back. The man had been his only male role model. His only compass in life. That fateful day weighed heavy on him.
‘Your handler kept good notes on you while you were in the gangs. I’ve read through all of them and think you have skills that could be very useful to me.’
‘What would Interpol want with me? I haven’t left the country in bloody years.’
‘We’ll get to that soon enough. Keith mentored you to join the force after he saved you from being killed as a teenager. You repaid him by doing well in the academy and then excelling as an officer. Then you volunteered to go undercover after a ganglord murdered your mother and stepsister.
‘I know all of this crap.’ Joe cracked his knuckles and sat forward in the chair. ‘What the hell do you want with me?’
‘I’m done talking to you. Send the other baboon back in and let me have a crack at him.’
Mike looked up from the folder and stared at Joe for a few seconds. ‘I am heading up a special taskforce.’
‘Of course, you are. Bureaucrats like you love a good task force.’
‘It’s a separate division to the Environmental Crimes Unit. Created to investigate the increasing numbers of environmental groups that are appearing. The new unit will report directly to the Home Secretary.’
‘What have the poor treehuggers done now?’
‘These are not your run of the mill placard-carrying hippies. They’re organised gangs, sponsoring various eco-terrorist groups. Many have agendas that we don’t fully understand yet. They have links to drug lords, traffickers and terrorist groups who, as you know, are always looking for new ways to launder money. Obviously, we’re worried that Islamic radicals will start to make use of them as a front.’
Joe leant back and let his chin drop to his chest. He let off a fake snore. ‘Can you get to the point that involves me?’
Mike smiled. ‘I want you to head up this task force. I trusted Keith with my life, and even before you got into this trouble, he recommended you before he passed away. I have been keeping tabs on your career and think you have a damn good investigative brain on you.’
‘You’ve bloody lost it, mate,’ Joe said. ‘You want a rogue undercover cop who’s allegedly been caught skimming off the top, to chase money laundering gangs and terrorists?’
‘Excellently phrased,’ Mike said. ‘Ex-poachers are best put to work catching poachers. That’s why I want you to do this.’
‘Sure, because that’s worked out so well for my employers so far.’
‘They failed with you. I will not.’
Joe burst out laughing. ‘You’re very sure of yourself.’
‘Laugh all you want. I’ve got the leverage they never had.’
‘What bloody leverage?’
‘The freedom to see your daughter whenever you want. Your freedom is at stake, and I’m the man that controls it.’
Joe shifted in his seat.
‘Moving along. We’ve made over forty arrests globally but only lower level protesters and gang members. Not worth much to anyone. Now we want to get the men who head up these organisations. We want you to get the leaders of these groups plus the financiers who back them.’
Joe looked him in the eyes. The bureaucrat held his gaze, so he turned his head and looked at the steel wire mesh covering the windows of the interrogation room.
‘You have the right set of investigation skills to do this, but crucially, the guile and street smarts to get these bastards,’ Mike said.
‘But I’m told I am staring at jail time here.’
‘True, but you have a choice to make. Accept my offer here and now, or go to prison. I’m sure you know what the inmates will think of you being an imprisoned undercover cop.’
Joe pictured his small apartment. It wasn’t much, but he could spend quality time with his daughter. It was a chance to see more of her, maybe even patch things up with his crazy wife. ‘I don’t have much choice now, do I?’ he said.
‘No, you don’t, Joe. But be warned. The first hint of trouble and I’ll have all of those charges brought to bear on you again,’ Mike said. He stood and walked out of the room leaving the door open.
Joe stood up and walked to the door. He hesitated, listening to the office outside. A grin appeared on his face, and he followed Mike into a room full of work cubicles. A weight lifted off his shoulders as the swagger came back into his walk. Heads of police officers and civilian staff looked over the wooden partitions, staring at him. To his left, he heard someone cursing out loud. DC Cook stood gesticulating and pointing to Joe. A stern word from a short woman, dressed in a black skirt and white blouse, made him turn and walk over to Joe.
‘You still want to go outside and take a swing at me?’ Joe asked.
DC Cook stared up at him as he unlocked the handcuffs. ‘This is not over, Dixon. You’d better watch your back.’
Joe smiled and walked up to Mike. ‘What now, boss?’
‘I have a car waiting to get us across town.’
The empty office building was a relic from the seventies. Grey concrete, aluminium framed windows and one-way glass. It was made even more depressing by the grim London drizzle. The two men had entered the building through a manned security door before taking the elevator up three floors. Standing in front of a four-metre-long whiteboard, Joe turned and looked around at the partially decorated space. Worn blue carpet tiles covered the floor, the odd tile corner curling upwards. Four square pillars were evenly spread along the space, supporting the floor above. Dirty beige vertical blinds that hailed from the eighties hung in the windows. In the corner, was a glassed-off rectangular room. Two men scurried between banks of newly installed racks of computer servers as laptops on a wooden table demanded their attention.
A loud crash behind Joe made him jump and spin around. Men in white overalls had dropped long cardboard boxes on top of the growing pile of packaging debris.
‘The furniture should be here this afternoon, and we’ll have the partitions set up after that,’ the workman said.
Joe nodded and looked back through the door he’d entered from the elevators. Mike Wells was standing outside and talking to someone. They turned and walked in. An audible gasp left Joe’s mouth as he looked at the woman walking alongside Mike. The beauty was a dead ringer for his ex-wife. Tall and slim, she had a black haircut, layered into a short pixie style. He blinked a few times.
‘Joe Dixon, may I introduce Parker Rhodes. She is one of my most accomplished and promising senior data analysts. She has a stellar record and a passion for wildlife, so knows what we’re up against. She’ll be your second in command and will help to set up this office for you while we sort out the administration challenges we have with you transferring from the police.’
Joe took her cool hand and looked into her blue eyes. ‘Good to meet you, Parker.’
‘Good morning, Joe. I’m looking forward to working with you.’
Borders of the Maludam National Park, Malaysia – 2014
Hudson Drake froze as something grabbed his ankle. What felt like a human grip encircled his boot, tightening with alarming strength. It tugged at his leg. He held his breath. Moving forward could raise the alarm.
The man ahead of him continued forward, stalking along the row of rooms to the left of them. Glistening wooden crates were stacked up between the closed bedroom doors of the compound. A streak of lightning over to their right lit up the courtyard as the monsoon rain continued to thrash down. The unpaved floor was a muddy mess. Hudson’s night vision goggles flashed white from more lightning before turning back to the sinister green hue.
Looking down to his ankle, he swung his Glock17 around. Another flash of lightening whitened the green haze, and he squeezed his eyes closed for a second. Movement from one of his men behind him distracted him before he pointed the pistol down at the thin hand that grasped his boot ankle.
‘Keep moving,’ the man said in a whisper.
Hudson waved the man past and knelt down, flipping the night goggles upwards. More lightning, this time a lot closer, lit up the large cage. Two small eyes glistened from the centre of a hairy face. A clap of thunder made Hudson jump. He reached down and stroked the arm, its orange fur matted and caked in mud.
Glancing over his shoulder to the other team, he could see three of his men, dressed in black Special Forces uniforms, moving along the opposite compound wall. Behind them, the video crew crept forward, hunched over, a group of nervous young men seeing action for the first time. The People against the Destruction of Species (PADOS) members all reported to him, and the pang of nausea emanated from his gut. No lives could be lost today.
Hudson grabbed the small hand still clasping his boot. It reached up to hold his hand. The soft, wrinkly palm pulled his hand closer to the steel bars. A second young orangutan shifted forward and looked up at him. A soft whistle through the rain signalled the teams were in position. Loud bird calls from one of the covered cages caused everyone to drop down to one knee. A rasping squawk from a hornbill was answered by an even louder reply from its mate.
‘Shit,’ Hudson said, looking down at a puddle. The rain was easing up.
The low growl of a Clouded Leopard rumbled across the courtyard to him from a wooden crate with metal bars. It paced in a circle, snarling as it looked up at the men in black. More calls from the hornbills followed by the high-pitched chirps from cages with smaller birds. Nausea filled his gut again. The man ahead of him turned around and crept back to his position.
A light went on inside one of the rooms ahead of them. Muffled voices of their targets mixed in with the cheeping of songbirds. A boom of thunder shocked the air around them. The light went out again, and Hudson smiled beneath his black balaclava as he felt a wet mouth chew on his finger. The little orangutans were silent but grabbing at him for attention.
The screech of a metal door broke his gaze, and a local Iban man stepped out wearing only a pair of shorts. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes with his left hand, a machete clasped in his right. Looking around the courtyard, his mouth opened to scream a warning. A thick arm slipped around his neck as someone behind him stifled his scream. With a rough twist, the attacker dragged him to the floor, his legs kicking outwards.
A feral dog barked outside the compound, echoed by the nearby rival. Hudson and his companion stood up and moved forward to the struggling man. A light in the room to his left came on, and a man called out from inside. Then a second. Across the courtyard, two doors flew open, and four men ran out, right into the second team. The PADOS team drove their targets back against the wall with swinging M27s automatic rifles and gloved fists.
One of Hudson’s men stood up from the unconscious figure in front of him, and turning, he pointed to the closed door that was between them. Taking a step forward, Hudson’s stomach churned like a combine harvester. His training wasn’t as comprehensive as these military men. The door flung open, and a man in short pants ran straight at Hudson, who dropped to his knee then drove upwards, flipping the man over his shoulder. The shirtless man flew through the air and landed in the mud with a groan. A second man came out, swinging a large machete-type blade but a punch to the jaw from Hudson’s companion dropped him where he stood.
Hudson ran to the man lying in the mud and swung a punch at his face, a crunching crack ripped through his fist as the prone man cried out and held his hands up.
‘Where is Mr Anak Adrianus?’ Hudson said. The man looked up at him. Hudson stepped forward to punch him again. The man mumbled something and pointed to the room with a closed door. Movement from behind Hudson made him spin around. A camera was trained on them. Lifting his hand, he pushed the lens downwards. ‘Get as near to that closed door as you can.’
The second team had subdued the guards on their side, and Hudson walked back over to the tall figure that had just walked out of a backlit doorway. ‘It seems the target is in that room.’
‘The coward doesn’t want to come out and play,’ Terry Slaughter said and removed his night vision goggles. ‘Leave him to me.’
The tall, muscular figure of Hudson’s mentor moved across the muddy floor towards the closed door, beckoning two others to his side. They crept towards the door. One of the men reached up to the door handle as Terry pulled the pin and sprung the handle of a flash grenade before tossing it in. Screams filled the night as the flash went off. Smoke billowed out of the doorway followed by a man. Terry grabbed him, shouting, ‘What is your name?’
The man coughed and scratched at his face. With his eyes darting around the courtyard, he locked onto the video team who were approaching, cameras out in front of them. A second man stumbled out, a metal pole in his hand. As he swung it in front of him, a PADOS soldier stepped forward, and body-blocked the man against the concrete wall. Screaming out, the Malaysian man knocked the night vision goggles from the man’s balaclava-covered head.
A vicious crack from a headbutt silenced the struggling man for a second before he pushed off from the wall and grabbed at the PADOS man’s head. Terry took a step towards the fighting men and grabbed the tribesman, dragging him backwards. The black balaclava ripped away from the soldier’s shaved head revealing the surprised look on his sweat-glistened face. The soldier turned away only to have the camera shoved into his face.
‘Don’t film me, you bloody idiot,’ he shouted.
Terry threw the balaclava back to the man who was shielding his face. ‘Retreat to the truck before anyone else sees your face.’
Hudson walked over to the two men who had been dragged up against the wall. Looking back he could see that all the men from the rooms had been subdued and were face down on the wooden pallets that were placed in front of one of the doorways. Black cable ties bound their hands and lengths of rag were wrapped around their mouths.
‘Which one of you is Mr Anak Adrianus?’ Hudson asked.
‘I am.’ The voice came from inside the room. The acrid smoke had thinned, and a shadow of a man holding a rifle appeared. It was trained on Terry Slaughter. Weapons from all of the PADOS team whipped around to meet him.
‘Drop the weapon, Adrianus,’ Hudson shouted as he stepped to the left of the doorway. ‘You cannot win this fight, and you know it.’
‘You will not take me alive,’ he said, shifting the rifle on his shoulder.
‘We’re here to release the animals, not to kill you or your men.’
‘Bullshit,’ he shouted in a high-pitched voice. A shot rang out from behind Hudson, and the man recoiled, grabbing his shoulder.
Spinning around, Hudson recognised the swagger of a short PADOS soldier walking towards him with a blackened shotgun.
‘Mate, you talk too damn much,’ he said, with a New Zealand accent.
‘I would’ve talked him down,’ Hudson said, his fists tightening around the Glock.
‘We’re in a foreign country, waving bloody military weapons around at the locals. We don’t have time.’
‘We’ll talk about this later,’ Hudson said and walked towards Terry, who had brought the man outside. The stocky prisoner struggled as he was forced to his knees in the mud. ‘At least the idiot used rubber bullets. Mr Adrianus here will be bruised and sore for a while but will survive.’
Hudson nodded to his mentor and reached into a small pouch on the webbing on his chest, pulling out a small radio. ‘Bring the vehicles. Over.’
Jungle birds, monkeys and small mammals all started to wake as the dirty sheets and tarpaulins were pulled back off their cages. The teams lifted the cages onto the back of the large flatbed truck. Squawks and tweets echoed into the night as Hudson walked over to the orangutans. A feminine figure dressed in black clothes leant down and allowed the young apes to climb. Carrying them on either hip, she walked over to Hudson, a grin visible through the balaclava mouth.
‘You have the coordinates for the release sites for the other animals,’ he said.
‘Yes, boss. We’ve been over them a few times today already,’ she said, with a thick American accent.
‘Just checking. Make sure that you get these two little guys to the rehab centre. It must appear as if a local brought them in. And then I want you three to get out of here.’
‘This is not the first snatch and release we’ve done, boss.’
‘I know that, lovely,’ he said, placing his hand on her shoulder. ‘We need you more than ever, and I don’t want you getting caught.’
She smiled as one of the orangutans started to gnaw on his arm. Turning, she walked to the cab of the truck.
Hudson stared at her as she walked away. He was lucky to have them all in Malaysia. Looking over his shoulder, he could see Terry and the New Zealander standing opposite one another, their arms folded. ‘You two,’ Hudson said. ‘Check the buildings for anyone hiding. Then torch this bloody place.’
‘May I suggest we strip the traffickers naked before we drop them off in Betong?’ Terry said.
‘Sure thing. Whatever floats your boat.’
Hudson was behind the wheel of the Toyota Land Cruiser, staring at the ghostlike beams of the headlights as they carved through the black space of the dark jungle. The bright dashboard lights lit up his face and half blinded him to the road. Peering across to his passenger, he looked at the slouching form of Luke Winston, a new addition to the team. The shy, young videographer stared out the window, his hands clasping at the camera on his lap. With his short dark hair and pale skin, he looked twelve years old and seemed to be out of his depth. Everyone did on their first outing.
‘What do you think of your first PADOS operation?’ Hudson said. ‘You okay?’
Luke looked across at him. ‘I guess so.’ He looked back ahead to the narrow track they were weaving their way along.
‘Did you get all the footage we needed of the rescue?’
‘I think I nailed it. But it just all happened so quickly, and with so much violence.’
‘As you know, PADOS stands for People Against the Destruction of Species.’
‘And that means we will do what is required to stand in the way of those who destroy nature. Whatever it takes, right?’
‘Hell, even I was also nervous back there. It is a stressful thing we do for the animals. But we do it anyway. You going to be okay with that?’
‘I’ll be okay,’ Luke said, sitting upright. ‘You didn’t seem that fazed.’
‘That comes with experience. I’ve done this a few times before and it takes a while to get your head around it. As you saw, it’s not all fundraising or building rehabilitation centres.’
‘I thought our job was to film the snatching of the trafficked wildlife. You know, put the man out of business. I didn’t expect us to beat up men as they slept. Was that all part of the plan?’
‘Yes, it was, Luke. We plan for different scenarios. Force is a necessity nowadays because dialogue has failed,’ Hudson said, slowing down for a large puddle. They splashed through the middle of it sending brown water over the cab, the windscreen wipers struggling to wipe the brown away. ‘We discussed this at length when we vetted you. You knew what you were signing up for.’
‘Maybe it’s just the reality of it all.’
‘Adrianus is out of business for a while and will either start up again or will disappear only to have another bastard replace him. We let them live to see who they go to complain to. There are corrupt men in this government helping them, and our job is to know who they are so we can take action against them.’
‘It’s all part of a bigger plan then? Is that what Operation Bern is?’
‘Bern is bigger than just a snatch and release. What we did tonight is just a small part of that.